If the Columbus Crew are to get untracked on Saturday at Atlanta United, their best player must be at his best.
Lucas Zelarayan, the MVP of the title game when the Crew (3-5-4, 13 points) won the 2020 MLS Cup, has been hampered by a right knee injury. Zelarayan has not scored since March 12, with his four goals coming in the first three matches of the season.
The Crew have talent around him like Derrick Etienne Jr. and Miguel Berry, but coach Caleb Porter knows the key is his star.
“Lucas is the real one in the attack,” Porter said. “When you look at Lucas, he’s in that caliber. We need our front three to score. That’s their job.”
Atlanta (4-4-4, 16 points) hopes Josef Martinez, who has 91 goals in 113 MLS games, is available for the first time since April 2. He underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee a few days later.
Atlanta is 1-3-3 in his absence.
“It’s great to have him back in training,” Atlanta defender Brooks Lennon said. “Seeing and having Josef Martinez available for you in any situation is a positive, so we’re really excited to have him back.”
Martinez has two goals in five matches this season.
Atlanta will be without defender Andrew Gutman, who will miss two to three months with an injured quadriceps tendon.
The Crew are 1-3-5 in the past nine games. For the first time in club history, they have been shut out six times in an eight-game stretch.
Yet, Porter said the analytics show the team is ready to break out.
“We’re a lot closer than people think,” he said.
Atlanta is unbeaten in 13 straight home games (eight wins, five draws), the second-longest run in club history (including playoffs).
The Crew are 1-8-6 in 15 road games since a 1-0 win at Atlanta in July 2021.
–Field Level Media