Columbus Crew vs. DC United: MLS Matchday 7 Preview

Following a Concacaf Champions Cup encounter with Liga MX side Tigres on Tuesday, the Columbus Crew will resume league play on Saturday night as they welcome D.C. United to Field.
Mar 4, 2023; Columbus, Ohio, USA;  Columbus Crew defender Steven Moreira (31) interrupts the pass by
Mar 4, 2023; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Columbus Crew defender Steven Moreira (31) interrupts the pass by / Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA

Currently placed third in the Eastern Conference standings with 11 points from six matches, the Columbus Crew have showcased resilience, exemplified in their recent 2-2 draw with Nashville SC. Despite conceding two first-half stoppage-time goals after an early lead by Sean Zawadzki, the Crew bounced back with Marino Hinestroza's 79th-minute equalizer. As they prepare to face D.C. United, the strategic choices of head coach Wilfried Nancy are under scrutiny, especially with the looming second leg of the quarterfinals against Tigres on Tuesday. While the Crew maintain an undefeated home record, their away form remains unproven. After this match, they embark on a road trip, facing Real Salt Lake on April 13th.

Will Cucho Hernández finally return?

Columbus manager Wilfried Nancy cited "team policy" as the reason for star forward Cucho Hernández's absence from the Crew's recent matches against Nashville SC and Tigres. This decision, likely triggered by an incident following Hernández's substitution in a prior game against Charlotte FC, reflects Nancy's commitment to preserving the team's culture, a stance he has upheld previously. Despite the significance of Hernández's absence, particularly in the crucial Champions Cup clash against Tigres, Nancy prioritizes maintaining team standards over individual talent.

While Nancy remains tight-lipped about the specifics, stating that the issue is "not about Cucho" but rather the broader team dynamic, the situation has raised questions about Hernández's future involvement. However, Nancy emphasizes handling the matter internally and protecting his players publicly. As Crew fans await resolution, Nancy's unwavering adherence to his coaching philosophy underscores the high stakes involved in maintaining team cohesion amid challenging circumstances. It has been revealed that Cucho has also been training with the squad as usual throughout all this which does help fans relax a bit.

A look at the visitors

After six matches, D.C. United SC boasts a 2-1-3 record, placing them eighth in the Eastern Conference standings. They are yet to secure a victory on the road, holding a 0-0-3 record away from home. Out of three matches where they were favored, they won two and lost one. In their recent 1-0 win over CF Montréal, former Columbus Crew player Pedro Santos scored a fantastic goal in the 84th minute to break the deadlock. Christian Benteke has been a standout offensive force for DC United in the current season, netting four goals. His impactful performances have played a crucial role in several matches, making him a key contributor to the team's points in the competition. Despite their current eighth-place position, D.C. United SC is just two points behind the Columbus Crew, having accumulated nine points from their six matches this season.

Last season, the Columbus Crew dominated their head-to-head encounters with D.C. United, securing victories in both matchups. In the first game, Columbus registered four shots on goal compared to D.C. United's three, securing a 2-0 win. The second meeting followed a similar pattern, with Columbus again emerging victorious with a 2-0 scoreline, despite D.C. United matching them with five shots on goal.

Team News

While Hernandez's availability for Saturday's match remains uncertain, Wilfried Nancy has confirmed that midfielder/defender Sean Zawadzki will be unavailable, possibly due to the head injury he suffered against Nashville SC on March 30th. Defender Rudy Camacho and forward Alex Matan have resumed training with the team as they recover from their respective injuries. Nancy expressed optimism about Camacho's potential availability for the upcoming match against D.C. United. Christian Ramirez looks to be out once again.

DC United will be missing Steve Birnbaum due to a knee issue, while goalkeeper Nathan Crockford is still on the path to full recovery from a head injury. 35-year-old Pedro Santos is eager for a starting position against his former team, following his impactful return from suspension in the previous match against Montreal.

What to expect

I expect Columbus to secure another win here, maintaining their flawless record at LDC Field. It will be intriguing to see if Cucho returns to the squad, potentially serving as a warmup for the return leg against Tigres in Mexico. While it might be too late for Camacho or Matan to start, even if they're back in training, I believe Nancy will have them on the bench and will likely send them out in the latter stages of the match to prepare for our encounter with Tigres.

What are your score predictions?