Going into last Saturday's match, you could almost guarantee No. 11 would score the first Crew goal in the Club's new stadium.
After all, that was the case in each of the last two monumental stadium-related matches for the Crew, dating back to 1999 with the opener at Historic Crew Stadium, as well as the stadium's finale most recently on June 19.
And, of course, that scenario rang true when Gyasi Zardes registered the Crew's first goal at Lower.com Field last Saturday.
Although circumstances may have prevented Zardes from fully savoring his accomplishment on Saturday night with the match ending in a 2-2 comeback draw, in retrospect, there is no shortage of well-earned joy as well as sentimentalism behind a No. 11 scoring the first goal in both of Columbus’ soccer-specific stadiums.
Now, hopefully, the Crew will be able to look back in a month and appreciate the number of points they will accumulate without a sizeable piece of its roster as Zardes and four others teammates will spend the next month with their respective national teams during the Concacaf Gold Cup.
In addition to Zardes linking up with the United States Men’s National Team, here’s a list of the Black & Gold players joining their respective national teams:
Liam Fraser – Canada
Eloy Room – Curaçao
Derrick Etienne Jr. – Haiti
Kevin Molino – Trinidad & Tobago
Gyasi Zardes – USMNT
Add this handful to the number of players currently working their way back from injury, and head coach Caleb Porter might have a third of his full roster unavailable beginning next Friday night against FC Cincinnati in the Hell Is Real Derby in Cincinnati.
That said, lineup variety is all too familiar for the Crew given the balance of Concacaf Champions League earlier this year and the MLS regular-season, on top of a shortened offseason.
Thus, all of this is by no means a surprise. Key offseason acquisitions such as veterans Bradley Wright-Phillips, Evan Bush, and other depth signings on the wing and defensive midfield will now play the role expected of them.
No area of the roster will be more important than the final third – an area that was already looking to generate more offensive production.
Of the Crew’s 11 goals scored this season, Zardes has scored four – all coming in the Club’s last three home games, while Kevin Molino and Derrick Etienne Jr., whose two assists through eight appearances already ties a career-high, will be a notable absence on the wings.
Molino, who was just getting healthy and starting to play an increasing role in the attack, will hopefully log minutes for Trinidad, but his absence leaves the Crew without an explosive player who recorded 21 goals in the previous four seasons with Minnesota United FC.
Two of the more intriguing storylines in the coming weeks are how Eloy Room and Liam Fraser will be replaced. As for Room, Evan Bush stepped in already this season and earned a clean sheet in his lone MLS appearance. As for Fraser, the young Canadian is playing an increasingly important role in the base of the midfield alongside Darlington Nagbe.
In just six appearances for the Black & Gold, Fraser is starting to mimic Nagbe in terms of metronomic passing. Fraser completed 25 of his 26 against the New England Revolution on Saturday night, which paired nicely with Nagbe’s 67 completed passes from 68 attempts.
Entering the 2-2 draw with the Revolution, the Crew took 15 points from their opening 10 league matches. For comparison, only four other clubs in the last 10 years had as many points after winning an MLS Cup the previous season.
Time and again, the Crew have managed difficult moments. As the Club awaits its biggest hurdle to date this season, how they perform with fewer options could go a long way in determining the Black & Gold’s position entering a playoff push later this season.