Over the course of a long season, there are many moves and decisions on and off the field that determine a team’s level of success or lack of success. When I look back at the Crew’s season to this point, there is one series of moves by head coach Wilfried Nancy that jump out at me. Did these moves save the Crew’s season?
After giving up four goals in their opening match of the season against Philadelphia, the Crew would concede just eight more over their next nine games. In late April, center back Milos Degenek was injured in a game against Miami. Philip Quinton took his place in the lineup and the defense struggled. Through the first four games in the month of May, the Crew gave up eight goals. To add to the team’s woes, left back Gustavo Vallecilla went out with an injury during a 3-1 loss to Nashville. Two-thirds of the team’s original back line was now lost to injury.
With woeful Colorado coming to Columbus for a midweek match, Nancy eschewed going with one of his very young defenders and inserted midfielder Malte Amundsen into the starting lineup to fill Vallecilla’s spot. Amundsen had been acquired in April from NYCFC after Will Sands was lost for the season with a knee injury. The next move from Nancy came at halftime of the Colorado game. Quinton, who had struggled in his first four starts, was REALLY struggling against Colorado. Nancy had seen enough and replaced him with Sean Zawadzki. The home-grown Ohio native scored a goal, helped settle down the back end, and the Crew got a much-needed win. Against Charlotte, a few days later, Nancy moved Stephen Moreira from right back to center and started Zawadzki on the right. Amundsen and Zawadzki would start the next seven games at left and right back.
Although there were certainly some adventurous moments and times of looking a bit lost, the Crew backline consisting of two midfielders would help hold opponents to just eight goals in seven games. This allowed the team to grab points in all seven of those matches (four wins, three draws) and keep themself in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff battle. If not spectacular, Amundsen and Zawadzki played well enough to stabilize the back line and give the Crew a chance in each game. Even when Vallecilla was ready to return, Nancy stuck with Amundsen.
The Added Benefit
With Amundsen and Zawadzki, Nancy now has two versatile players he can trust to play multiple positions. Although Rudy Camacho has become a fixture on defense after being brought in from Montreal, Zawadzki is still contributing heavily. In the last month, he has started games in the center of midfield, on the wing, and at center back. His start at center back came against New England two weeks ago and put the versatility of both players on full display. When Rudy Camacho entered the game and replaced Yaw Yeboah. Camacho took over in the middle of the back line, Zawadzki slid over to left back, and Amundsen moved up to take over Yeboah’s position on the wing.
Nancy’s bold decision to use two midfielders on the back line may have been one made out of desperation because the Crew was so thin at those positions, but the moves worked. Is saying they saved the Crew season a bit of hyperbole? Maybe. But there is no question they had a large impact on this season and now the team is reaping that added benefit of lineup versatility.