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A new-look Columbus Crew, with a new formation, led to success, decisions for Caleb Porter

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The Columbus Crew of the last three matches isn’t the same as the Crew team that started the 2022 Major League Soccer season. After the first four Black & Gold matches, midfielder Lucas Zelarayán won MLS Player of the Month and Columbus had two strikers in Miguel Berry and Gyasi Zardes. Everything in the Crew world, outside of set piece defending, looked pretty good. The Black & Gold started undefeated and scored 10 goals in four matches.

Heading into the 11th MLS match of the year, only Berry remains after Zardes was traded to the Colorado Rapids on April 22 and Zelarayán continues to recover from a knee injury sustained on March 20. On the field, Columbus scored no goals in the four straight matches, losing three straight before a 0-0 draw against Sporting Kansas City on April 23.

In that windy and rainy road draw against Sporting, the Crew began to change. Without Zelarayán and less depth at forward, head coach Caleb Porter made changes. Porter’s 4-2-3-1 formation based on possession narrowed to a more direct 4-3-3. Since that change, the Black & Gold have points in three straight matches and five goals in their last two.

Porter’s 4-3-3 formation allowed Columbus to earn points without a No. 10. With Zelarayan unable to facilitate the offense, the Crew played wide, allowing fullbacks and wingers to have a stronger part in goal creation. On Saturday in a 2-2 draw at the New England Revolution, fullbacks Pedro Santos and Derrick Etienne Jr. each facilitated the two goals, with Etienne sending in the final pass on both.

This is a formation that stifled both Kansas City, with the Columbus sitting further back, and D.C. United, where the Crew sent more forward in the attack. The draw against New England is the first of three matches facing the best teams in MLS.

Even though the Revolution struggled to start the year due to match congestion and injuries, New England is mostly the same side that broke the league record for points in a single season in 2021. The next two matches feature the 2021 MLS Cup-winning New York City FC and the top team in the league in LAFC.

There’s good news for the Black & Gold for their upcoming battles. Porter announced that Zelarayán and fullback Steven Moreira are both fit and available to start. Does that mean that it’s time to say goodbye to the 4-3-3?

“We’ve just got to look at the opponent,” said Porter. “A lot of coaches make that mistake, and I’ve made that over the years in some games, going, ‘What’s my best 11? Oh, that’s it.’ You have to look at your opponent and go, ‘What’s my best 11 for this game?’”

Porter continuing with Columbus’ current formation has merit with tough months ahead. With Zardes’ trade, and Berry continuing to grow into a full-time MLS starting striker, the Crew won’t bring in a new Designated Player forward until at least July. Zelarayán’s ability to facilitate the offense, sit up front as a False 9 or the less likely option of playing on the wing means one more spot on the field for new players who’ve shined over the past three matches.

The addition of Aidan Morris to the midfield, alongside regular starters Darlington Nagbe and Artur, slowed opposing midfields considerably. The first half of Saturday’s draw included one total shot and no shots on goal for the Revolution. Also, midfielder James Igbekeme’s versatility to play any position in the midfield infused energy into the Black & Gold. None of this means that the tactic is here to stay.

“I’m going to do what I think is best for this game and then I might do something completely different back at home against LAFC,” said Porter.

As strategies change, there’s still the underlying positive that players coming into matches are there based on their form and the strength of the player. Last season, Columbus went down the depth chart as a necessity across the field with inconsistent results and starting 11s.

In 2022, a three-match losing streak’s been the focal point of the early MLS season. With the Crew now scoring goals, and a small group occupying the starting 11, Porter has options from match to match and situation to situation.



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Pablo Ruiz Is Everywhere.  | Real Salt Lake

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Pablo Ruiz is everywhere. Whether it’s on the pitch at Rio Tinto Stadium, at the Zions Bank training center or most recently, last weekend at Stade Saputo in Montreal, Quebec.

The Real Salt Lake midfielder born in the largest city below the 45th parallel (Comodoro Rivadavia, Argentina) bossed the center of the park in the Great White North, putting on a performance against CF Montreal that earned him Major League Soccer Team of the Week honors.

In Montreal, Ruiz put on a show that’s become customary for him everytime he puts on the Claret-and-Cobalt shirt this season. The Argentine assisted in RSL’s first goal directly from a corner kick, and played a part in the build up of RSL’s second goal which would prove to be the game winner as Real Salt Lake left Canada with a 2-1 victory.

Still, the play that perhaps best defined Ruiz’s impact in Montreal, and his 2022 campaign so far, could be this chance he helped create for Sergio Cordova.

Ruiz’s constant movement, and ability to quickly transition play from defense to offense has been paramount for RSL’s success this season. While he led RSL in tackles (5) and chances created (3) at Stade Saputo last weekend, his full season stats help paint an even better picture of Ruiz’s impact. In short, Pablo Ruiz is everywhere.

In full, advanced statistics highlight the fact that Ruiz is having an incredible season all over the park. Per Fbref.com, defensively, Ruiz is among the Major League Soccer elite. Highlights include:

Among other impressive defensive stats. Offensively, Ruiz has established himself as a creative fulcrum for the Claret-and-Cobalt. Highlights include:

Together these stats help give context to the kind of all-around midfielder Ruiz has become this season. He credits his coach Pablo Masteroni for helping him reach this next level.

“Before the season started Pablo and I had a chat, and he asked me to play a little more offensively, and I just added that to my game,” said Ruiz. “Now I try to have my offensive and defensive game complimenting each other.”

Ruiz’s play has earned him plaudents across the league, and spot in the Western Conference Best XI so far this season.

You could say the only place Ruiz hasn’t been is behind the sticks in goal, but that’s actually where his career began, way before his rising trajectory as midfielder in MLS.

“I started playing at 4-years-old. I was originally a goalkeeper and then when I was eight, I decided to become an outfield player,” said Ruiz.

At 14-years-old, Ruiz entered the famous San Lorenzo de Almagro academy. San Lorenzo competes in the Argentine first division and is considered one of the ‘big five’ in Argentinian football along with Boca Juniors, River Plate, Racing Club and Independiente.

Current Atletico Madrid star Angel Correa and former Manchester City star Pablo Zabaleta were also both San Lorenzo academy products.

“It was an incredible experience,” said Ruiz. “During that time I was also selected to be on the U17 Argentinian National team. I grew a lot and would have loved to continue to play in the Argentine League. That wasn’t the case, but other opportunities were presented, like going to Chile and then coming here. But while I was in Argentina I learned a lot.”

You could go to any soccer bar in Comodoro Rivadavia and have a lengthy conversation about legendary Argentinaian players such as Lionel Messi (who Ruiz once trained with) and Maradona but the same could also be said for another midfielder, Juan Roman Riquelme.

The four time Argentinian Player of the Year, who wore the legendary kits of Boca Juniors and FC Barcelona among others, is the player who Ruiz models his game after.

“He was a player that loved to be on the ball. He also liked to create space, I was really inspired watching him play,” said Ruiz.

Riquelme, notoriously a player who put most of his energy into the offensive aspect of the game, may seem like an interesting player to inspire the defensively astute Ruiz. However as the stats have shown, Ruiz’s creative side is also starting to shine.

Confidence was a defining characteristic in Riquelme’s success and style of play and Ruiz credits it as the reason for his offensive renaissance this season. The very confidence that is helping him ascend early season MLS MVP predictions was also difficult to find.

Ruiz arrived in Salt Lake City in 2018 following a spell at Chilean club San Luis and struggled to get his career off the ground on a new continent. Ruiz played intermittently his first season at RSL and then didn’t play at all his second season before being loaned to Austrian club, FC Pinzgau Saalfelden along with RSL teammate Andrew Brody.

This point in his career is when Ruiz’s confidence hit its lowest point.

“For a moment I thought that my career may have been coming to an end,” said Ruiz. “I sincerely felt like I was declining, but I think I found myself while in Austria and I started to grow. The coach (Christian Ziege) helped me a lot, he was a person that told me to believe in myself and what I can do. He was an ex-pro player who had a successful career, and played on some big teams. He told me that if I believed in myself and had confidence in what I did, I could play anywhere I wanted.”

Anywhere turned into everywhere. Ruiz returned to Real Salt Lake a different player, and reached another level last season when he helped RSL reach the Western Conference Final.

This hasn’t been enough for Ruiz. He wants more. He credits his success not only to confidence, but also to an altered offseason plan.

“Normally what I have done since I arrived is go home during the off-season to visit my family,” said Ruiz. “I actually haven’t done that since 2020. Normally as players when the season ends we’re thinking about going on vacation, traveling, seeing our families. Not having done that the last two years, but instead chosen to stay, focus and prepare for the season has made me stronger both physically and mentally. I think doing this was key in my improvement.”

The improvement from young player struggling to adjust abroad to a confident all-around midfielder has taken time, but now Ruiz is blossoming on the field. Off the field this season, he has dealt with tragedy. Ruiz’s father died in late April of this year.

Along with such tragedy, also comes hope. Ruiz announced earlier this week that his wife Florencia is expecting their first child.

“Knowing my baby is on the way inspires me to be better and to keep growing,” said Ruiz. “It has motivated me to keep pushing and striving for bigger things, and from now on I know that the thing that I accomplish will be for the benefit of them.”

Following Real Salt Lake’s match against Vancouver Whitecaps on June 4th, Ruiz will finally return home. A deserved break after such a successful and trying start to the season.

This weekend you can see Ruiz again, as he and his teammates take on the Houston Dynamo on Saturday, May 28th. You can expect to see Ruiz continue to impact the game all over the field and if you’re searching to find him on the pitch, look everywhere.





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Loons vs. NYCFC preview: Rematch at long last

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7 p.m. vs. New York City FC · BSN, 1500-AM

Preview: These two teams meet for the first time since April 2019, when the Loons opened new $250 million Allianz Field. Ozzie Alonso scored the stadium’s first goal in a 3-3 draw. This will be only the fourth time they have played competitively and the second at Allianz; each team is 1-1-1. … Wednesday’s 2-1 U.S. Open Cup loss to third-division Union Omaha knocked the Loons out of the all-comers tournament in the round of 16. Their last MLS game was Sunday’s 2-1 victory at FC Dallas. … NYCFC’s Open Cup victory over New England makes them 10 games undefeated in all competitions. Its last loss was in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinal against Seattle. Its last league loss was against Toronto in early April. … The Loons will play without yellow card-suspended Kervin Arriaga and Michael Boxall.

Injuries: The Loons’ Hassani Dotson and Patrick Weah are out for the season; goalkeeper Tyler Miller (abdominal) and defender Romain Metanire (thigh) are out, too. Leading scorer Robin Lod (thigh) is listed as questionable, as are midfielder Wil Trapp (ribs) and strikers Luis Amarilla (foot) and Abu Danladi (thigh). NYCFC lists Anton Tinnerholm (Achilles tendon) and Kevin O’Toole (head) as out and Chris Gloster, Tayvon Gray, Maxi Moralez and Malte Amundsen as questionable, all because of “lower body” injuries.



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Alex Roldán turned down call-up to El Salvador

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Alex Roldán was conspicuously left off El Salvador’s roster for some upcoming Concacaf Nations League matches. On Friday, El Salvador coach Hugo Perez explained why.

“To close this chapter I want to say that Roldán is not coming because he is not happy with what happened before the game against Canada,” he said in Spanish. “He prefers to take some more time to digest that. But that is the reason, there is no other. Those are things that don’t have to happen, but they did. But we can’t do anything anymore, we have to turn the page and move on.”

The incident in question happened in February, when the El Salvador players released a statement saying that they intended not to play a World Cup qualifier due to a dispute over bonuses. Although they eventually relented, some hard feelings apparently persisted.

The 2-0 loss to Canada effectively eliminated El Salvador from World Cup contention and Roldán was not part of the team during the final qualifying window, nor a friendly in April.

Although Roldán only made his El Salvador debut during last summer’s Gold Cup, he’s already made 15 appearances and established himself as a team captain.

In a Twitter post, Roldán didn’t offer a ton of elaboration but did say that he “didn’t want to come back with bad thoughts and ruin relationships” and left the door open for a return in the future.

El Salvador’s loss is the Sounders’ gain, however, as Roldán will now be available for the team’s June 14 match against the Vancouver Whitecaps.





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