Columbus Crew 2023 MLS season preview: Tactics, predicted XI, predictions
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Columbus Crew are pushing for a return to the MLS Cup Playoffs in 2023.

With Wilfried Nancy arriving from CF Montreal to replace Caleb Porter on the sidelines, and a number of longtime players leaving – including Pedro Santos, Artur, and Jonathan Mensah – we’re set to see a very different team take to the field on February 25.

The Crew have missed out on the Playoffs in three of the last four seasons though, of course, they did go all the way in 2020. Even so, they’ll be keen to improve on that record and re-establish themselves among the MLS elite.

So, here’s everything you need to know about the Columbus Crew ahead of the new MLS season, including tactics, key players, and predictions.

Transfers in


Former Club


Jimmy Medranda

Seattle Sounders

Free transfer

Keegan Hughes

Stanford Cardinal

Free transfer

Max Arfsten

San Jose Earthquakes II


Xavier Zengue

Dayton Flyers


Christian Ramirez



Transfers out


Club Joined



Houston Dynamo


Jonathan Mensah

San Jose Earthquakes

$200k (rising to $500k)

Derrick Etienne Jr

Atlanta United

Free transfer

Pedro Santos

DC United

Free transfer

Erik Hurtado


Marlon Hairston


Perry Kitchen


Jalil Anibaba


During his time with Montreal, Nancy mostly used a three-at-the-back system. However, at the time of writing, Columbus simply don’t have the numbers to do so, meaning a back four is looking likely pending further investment.

What won’t change are Nancy’s principles. He likes his teams to dominate the ball and use it to methodically open gaps in the opposition defense with quick combinations centrally and, when the chance arises, big switches of play.

In Cucho Hernandez and Lucas Zelarayan, Nancy has his perfect partnership between a dynamic, powerful forward and a creative No.10. The latter could be just as important to him as Djordje Mihailovic was at Montreal.

Columbus Crew predicted XI (4-2-3-1): Room; Moreira, Degenek, Williams, Medranda; Nagbe, Morris; Diaz, Zelarayan, Yeboah; Hernandez.

Zelarayan is the difference-maker for Columbus.

Zelarayan is the difference-maker for Columbus. / Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Lucas Zelarayan

We’ve already seen a short snapshot of what Hernandez could bring to MLS. However, the Crew will still lean heavily on the much more tried and tested Lucas Zelarayan.

The Armenia international has been among the best players in the league since joining in 2020, hitting 31 goals (some of them incredible strikes) and 17 assists in 86 games across all competitions, winning MLS Cup and Campeones Cup titles in the process.

Zelarayan can open up the opposition from pretty much any position on the field and if you give him time and space, he can score from anywhere, too.

Nancy loves his creative midfielders and he’s got a real star at Columbus in Zelarayan.

In midfield and attack, the Crew have enough talent to hang with pretty much any team in Major League Soccer. At the back, though, they appear desperately short of numbers and although they still have time to make additions, it’s going to be a sharp transition period for whoever comes in.

That could ultimately prove damaging to Columbus’ MLS Cup Playoffs hopes, though their firepower and Nancy’s tactical skill alone would be enough to keep them competing for the last couple of spots throughout.

Will Columbus Crew qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs? No

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