The Crew developed a plan in the offseason at the same time they stated they saw Gyasi Zardes and Miguel Berry as two starting-caliber strikers.
That plan included the possibility of trading Zardes to the highest bidder, thus opening a designated player spot to sign a high-level striker to lift the team’s attack.
Now the Crew have the goal-scorer they were after in Cucho Hernandez, and Zardes, now with the Colorado Rapids, has scored five goals in five games and is coming off a hat trick heading into a reunion against his old club Saturday at 9 pm .
There’s a bit more on the line than just two teams in opposite conferences fighting for better playoff positioning with about two months remaining in the regular season.
“I think he’s looking forward to this game as we are, and I think he will have something burning in his stomach and maybe a point to prove,” defend Miloš Degenek said. “I wish him well and I wish he continues to score and I hope he scores another 10 or 15 goals and goes to the World Cup. But I hope he doesn’t score on Saturday. I hope he scores in every other game.”
The Crew traded Zardes to Colorado in late April for $300,000 guaranteed in general allocation money, which could go up to $1.4 million in incentives. It’s unlikely the Crew will receive all $1.4 million, but it’s likely they will get more than $300,000.
Over four-plus seasons with the Crew, Zardes scored 54 goals with six assists in 110 games. He scored two goals and an assist in the Crew’s run to winning MLS Cup in 2020.
The scenario at striker for the Crew couldn’t be more different from where it started back on opening day. But the strategy the Crew worked out for both sides.
Zardes and Berry are no longer on the roster. Hernandez has ignited a dormant Crew attack and with five goals in his first six games to go along with a skill set that explains why he was in the English Premier League last season. And Zardes is starting every game and getting a chance to make the US men’s national team’s World Cup roster based on his club performance this season.
Zardes has scored six goals in 1,204 minutes in 15 games for the Rapids.
Crew coach Caleb Porter was blunt in his explanation of the Zardes trade in April. He said he started to see Zardes miss chances he would normally make, and the striker would slowly “start going down because of his age dele, and again, we just need a little bit more.” Porter later apologized for those comments.
Porter said he and the rest of the team will likely share a handshake before or after the game, but it would be business as usual.
“There’s always players you’re going to come across that wore the badge, and those players mean a lot to our club,” Porter said. “Obviously we wish Gyasi all the best, like we do any player that has worn the uniform. This will be no different.
“It’s been great to kind of follow him. He had a hat trick last game. I thought he had a good game. He was very opportunistic like he is usually in the box.”
After the trade, Zardes said going to Colorado was an opportunity that excited him, citing his desire to be on the World Cup roster.
Putting Colorado (8-9-6, 30 points) into playoff position with a win while possibly sending the Crew (8-6-9, 33 points) below the playoff line likely intrigues him the same.
record: 8-6-9, 33 pts., 5th in East
Projected Starting XI (4-2-3-1):
Eloy Room (goalkeeper), Miloš Degenek (center back), Jonathan Mensah (center back), Pedro Santos (left back), Steven Moreira (right back), Darlington Nagbe (center midfielder), Artur (center midfielder), Derrick Etienne Jr . (right winger), Lucas Zelarayan (attacking midfielder), Luis Diaz (winger), Cucho Hernandez (forward).
What to watch: The Crew did well last game pressuring New York City’s attacking players and limiting the amount of space they had at times. Colorado has scored nine goals in the past two games. The confidant defense will face the confidant offense. Center backs Degenek and Mensah must be on top of their game going against their former teammate.
Record: 8-9-6, 30 pts., 10th in West
Projected Starting XI (4-1-4-1):
William Yarbrough (goalkeeper), Lucas Estevez (left back), Danny Wilson (center back), Gustavo Vallecilla (center back), Keegan Rosenberry (right back), Jack Price (central defensive midfielder), Sam Nicholson (left midfielder), Diego Rubio (attacking midfielder), Bryan Acosta (central midfielder), Michael Barrios (right midfielder), Gyasi Zardes (striker).
Columbus 2, Colorado 1: Both teams enter Saturday with a lot of confidence, but the Crew have more attacking weapons. The Crew are arguably better at every position on the field and will be coming in with some confidence. However, Colorado has two come-from-behind in a row, and the Crew have given up leads several times this season. This could be another case where the Crew have to hold on late.