MANAGUA, Nicaragua (WCMH) — The Columbus Crew are preparing for the 2021 Concacaf Champions League and will face Real Esteli FC in the first leg of the Round of 16 on Thursday.
“I always say it: every team is capable in football. They were the champions last year and they have some very good plyers,” Crew head coach Caleb Porter said. “We’ve watched their matches and we have much respect for their club . . . we don’t need to chase this game but we certainly need to get off to a good start.”
Porter said they don’t need to chase the game because it’s first of a two-leg series against Real Esteli FC. Columbus will host the second leg match on April 15 where 3,600 fans will be in attendance.
The Crew qualified for the tournament by winning the 2020 MLS Cup.
Columbus kept its most important players from the championship run: Lucas Zelarayan, Darlington Nagbe, Pedro Santos, Gyasi Zardes, Eloy Room, Jonathan Mensah and José Artur de Lima Junior. But the Crew also added a few key pieces that make them one of the favorites to win the Supporter’s Shield and repeat as MLS Cup champions.
New Faces in Cbus
Kevin Molino, Winger: Molino will likely be the only new addition who will start for Columbus. He registered nine goals and two assists in 18 games with Minnesota last year and will fill a void at left or right wing. The 30-year-old was signed to a multi-year deal.
Bradley Wright-Phillips, Forward: Although he’s 36 years old, Wright-Phillips has plenty to offer the Crew as a backup to Zardes. Wright-Phillips ranks sixth all time in MLS goals scored (116) and can provide a spark when one is needed late in a crucial game.
Marlon Hairston, Defender: Hairston will be playing in his 8th MLS season and will backup Harrison Afful at right back, a major transition from his usual position at winger. Hairston was brought to the club through free agency.
Evan Bush, Goalkeeper: Bush is an Ohio native who brings nine years of MLS experience to the Crew. Columbus did not resign Andrew Tarbell and needed a No. 2 to backup Room when he needs rest or plays internationally.
Perry Kitchen, Midfielder: 28-year-old Kitchen joins Columbus from the LA Galaxy and has played in the MLS for a decade. He will provide some much-needed depth at midfield.
Alexandru Matan, Attacking Midfielder: Matan is a 21-year-old transfer from FC Viitroul Constanta. He will not be available for the Crew’s first game in Nicaragua but will be available for the 2nd leg on April 15.