2023 Crew season preview: Central attacking midfielders

2023 Crew season preview: Central attacking midfielders

Updated: 29 days, 14 hours, 21 minutes, 30 seconds ago

The start of the 2023 Major League Soccer season is just days away. As we head into the new year, Massive Report takes a look at the current Columbus Crew position groups and breaks down what we expect from those positions in the coming season. Here are the attacking midfielders.

The Columbus Crew enters a new season with largely the same roster as last year, but with a new head coach patrolling the touchline. The attacking midfield position has been an area of excellence for the Black & Gold for a long time with names like Brian Maisonneuve, Kyle Martino, Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Federico Higuaín playing the role.

Once again this year, Columbus has one of the best No. 10s in Major League Soccer. But with a new coach calling the shots, will that role change from what fans have grown accustomed to? In the past, Wilfried Nancy has deployed two attacking midfielders at once and it’s possible he does that with the Crew.

Let’s take a look at Nancy’s options at the attacking midfield position.

Lucas Zelarayan

The Argentinian Designated Player enters his fourth season with the Black & Gold. Zelarayan registered 10 goals and 12 assists over 2,320 minutes last year, leading the team in both categories.

No matter the formation Wilfried Nancy chooses to use, the goal for Zelarayan remains the same: score and create goals. Fans know he can launch a shot from outside the penalty box (he had six last year, including one from midfield) but a more consistent presence is needed in the attacking third if Columbus is to improve on last season’s results.

From April to July, Zelarayan failed to register a goal or assist while missing four of the 12 matches with an injury, but the team suffered with the star not asserting himself, managing three wins, four draws and five losses during that time.

It is incredibly difficult to ask more of Zelarayan. His performance in a Crew uniform has bordered on historic, and he was a major part of the team bringing home the 2020 MLS Cup. That being said, the last two seasons have seen him be shackled at times and feel the need to do too much on his own. Nancy hopes top unlock another level in the playmaker’s game and build on the connection with striker Cucho Hernandez.

Kevin Molino

The MLS veteran arrived to the Black & Gold with extremely high expectations after his 2020 season in Minnesota. Columbus fans have yet to see the level of consistency from Molino that made him a top MLS midfielder. While battling various injuries, Molino has notched two goals for the Crew in 22 appearances the last two years, largely playing from the wing.

Depending on how Nancy lines his team up, Molino might find himself tucked in more centrally with a wing back flanking his outside. This role may fit him more than how he was deployed in the past considering his desire to attack the center of defenses and inhabit pockets of space created by teammates.

Regardless, the opportunity is still there for Molino to catch on in Columbus. With defenders more occupied with other Crew stars, this may be his year.

Yaw Yeboah

Sometimes international transfers take time to catch on in MLS. Black & Gold fans will hope that is the case for Ghana international. Yeboah entered last year as Columbus’ big offseason acquisition, and after one game, it looked like the front office had found their guy.

But after contributing a beautiful assist in the opening game of the year, Yeboah did not find the score sheet for the rest of the season. After missing four games in the summer with an ankle injury, Yeboah rarely saw the field the rest of the way.

A new coach, a new role possibly attacking from the outside in and a year of acclimation might make the difference for Yeboah with the Crew. Only time will tell. Much like Molino, the opportunity to play a bigger role and show his ability is there for the taking.

Alexandru Matan

The former U22 initiative signing embarks on a crucial third season with the Black & Gold after failing to make much of an impact in his first two.

After playing in 28 games with no goals or assists in 2021, the Romanian rarely saw the field under head coach Caleb Porter last year and was loaned back to FC Rapid in Bucharest. He played in six matches for Rapid and missed the rest of the season with a fractured finger.

Some in Columbus may be surprised to see Matan back in Lower.com Field in 2023, but the 23 year old looks to turn over a new leaf with a new coach who has a reputation for playing and developing young talent. Perhaps Matan will find his game and sets the league on fire.

Final Thoughts

Crew fans and MLS prognosticators alike have been accustomed to the Crew aligning in the same formation for almost 12 years now. Much of that consistency in formation is because the Black & Gold have been able to rely on premiere attacking midfielders to facilitate their attack in the No. 10 role.

That may be changing this season and with that change will come new opportunities for new faces to shine.

Preview position previews


Center backs


Central midfielders