Crew-Los Angeles FC Preview

Columbus Crew SC has gone from one of the hottest teams in MLS to one with a lot of unanswered questions heading into its first match against the expansion Los Angeles FC on Saturday at Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles.

Foremost is how Columbus (7-4-6) will respond to the unexpected loss of goalkeeper Zack Steffen because of a knee injury sustained during training on Thursday.

Steffen was the MLS Player of the Month for May after five consecutive shutouts. He then left for U.S. National Team duty and made seven saves in 1-1 tie vs. France on June 9.

Upon his return to the Crew, he had his 525-minute scoreless streak stopped in a 2-0 loss to Atlanta United on June 13.

Going into that home match, the Crew was on a nine-game unbeaten streak to climb to third in the Eastern Conference. However, the defeat left the Crew winless in four matches (0-1-3) for 27 points at the halfway point.

“There’s lots of things we can improve on,” Crew captain Wil Trapp said. “Certainly scoring more goals and continuing to work on our positioning play are two things we are going to work on in particular.”

LAFC (7-4-3) has a more positive vibe with last-minute wins over San Jose in MLS play and Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup round-of-16 victory over Sacramento Republic FC of the United Soccer League.

It took two stoppage-time goals, including the winner by Joao Moutinho in the 97th minute, to overtake San Jose 4-3 to end a four-game winless stretch.

“Everyone knows it wasn’t our best game,” Los Angeles defender Walker Zimmerman said. “We know we have a lot of things we have to clean up and get better, but at the same time we found a way to get a result and get three points.

“If you look at the heart and the compete and drive we had to the final whistle, that was very important to figure out that we can play like that so we can carry those three points and that momentum going into Columbus.”

LAFC will without Mexican forward Carlos Vela and Costa Rican forward Marco Urena, who are participating in the FIFA 2018 World Cup in Russia. Vela played a pivotal role in Mexico’s 1-0 upset of Germany in its first match.

“I’m glad Carlos Vela isn’t playing, but I know they have other guys that can step in,” Crew coach Gregg Berhalter said.

LAFC is expected to have the services of Belgium defender and captain Laurent Ciman, who was in Russia as a standby replacement but was released from the squad on Monday and returned to Los Angeles.