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Scouting the Columbus Crew ahead of Atlanta United’s trip to Ohio

The Crew are off to a little of a slow start in 2023.

Columbus Crew v New York Red Bulls Photo by Ira L. Black - Corbis/Getty Images

Last time out: L 2-1 at New York Red Bulls (Matan 33’)

At a glance: After 2 seasons at the helm of CF Montréal, Wilfried Nancy took the reins of one of MLS’s original clubs on Dec. 6 after leading CFM to a 2nd-place finish in the East in 2022, thanks to a stretch that saw them lost just once in their final 15 regular-season matches. Crew ownership will hope that the Frenchman can return them to past glories: while Caleb Porter led them MLS Cup in 2020, he was shown the door after missing the playoffs in back-to-back years. Nancy will need a little time and patience from Columbus’ owners to put his imprint on the club: that’s partially evidenced by the fact that it’s won just once through 4 matches.

“We did good things in the first half to avoid the transition of New York, and then in the second half, we conceded the first goal and we did what we didn’t do in the first half,” Nancy told reporters after a 2-1 loss to the New York Red Bulls. “What that means is we lost a few balls and we gave them the opportunity in transition to score goals.”

Key absences: For a side already scheduled to miss Milos Degenek (Australia), Eloy Room (Curaçao), and Lucas Zelarayan (Armenia) due to international duty, this news didn’t help matters:

Cucho saw his form taper off later in the 2022 season — he scored just once in the final 9 matches after 8 goals in the 8 preceding matches — but he was still set to be one of the danger men in the Crew attack. In Cucho’s absence on Saturday during a 2-1 loss to the New York Red Bulls, Nancy inserted Alex Matan, with the Romanian finding the net in a losing cause and possibly in line to serve in the role until Cucho’s return.

There’s also Kevin Molino, who’s been shelved 6-8 weeks due to a knee procedure.

Who to watch: Matan will be looking to take the chance that’s been afforded him following a disappointing 2022 campaign. Along with his goal against RBNY, he was credited with an assist against D.C. United in a 2-0 win, and the hope of Nancy (and the Crew) is that the 23-year-old can make a lasting impact on the team’s attack.

Miscellaneous: Saturday is “Battle At the Death Star” night at Field, so you’ll probably need to be on the lookout for Star Wars costumes during the match.

Be on the lookout for our full preview on Friday when we’ll give you a closer look at the matchup as well as predicted XIs for both teams.