Caleb Porter’s plan as he approached the Columbus Crew’s 2022 regular-season opener was a simple one: Go with a Best XI in the strongest formation. That meant Miguel Berry and not Gyasi Zardes as the lone striker in a 4-2-3-1 lineup against Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
There was a lot to like for Porter, who stressed there's no controversy at striker between Berry and Zardes, who came off the bench for Berry in the 73rd minute.
“We have two very good strikers, that’s a strength of this team, not a weakness,” Porter said in his post-match remarks. “There’s no controversy at all. Both are good guys, both want to be in this club, both want to play, both are very professional and they're about the team.”
Porter said he “owed” Berry the start after the way he finished 2021, when he had three goals and one assist in the final four games of the year as the starter. Zardes, a US men's national team veteran, was out injured.
“He’s proven to be an excellent defender, a very good holdup player," Porter said of the 24-year-old third-year pro. "I thought he battled for balls in the air. I thought there were many times we played into him and he popped it off very cleanly – him and Lucas link up extremely well. He’s good in the box and he runs with the ball as well. He’s a very talented player.”
Porter said he’d reassess the lineup and formation for Week 2 when Columbus visit the San Jose Earthquakes on March 5 (5:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+), but rest assured Berry is very much in his plans going forward.
“I’d be silly to not play this kid Miguel Berry a lot of minutes this year,” the head coach said.
"Different level of quality"
Porter also lauded his midfield trio of Artur, Darlington Nagbe and Zelarayan, all of whom played a large role in the club’s MLS Cup lift in 2020. Injuries limited Artur, a 25-year-old Brazilian in a deep-lying role, to just six matches in 2021.
“Artur’s a different level of quality on both sides of the ball and a huge leader," Porter said. "I think you saw the chemistry between him, Darlington and Lucas. 2020, when we won MLS Cup, that was probably the best midfield in the league.
"I always kind of feel the games are decided centrally, that's where your engine room and that’s where the buildup happens, where you’re ball-winning and where we rip the heart out of the opponent. I just thought it looked fluid and cohesive, like we thought it would.”