MANAGUA, Nicaragua (WCMH) – The Columbus Crew prepare for the 2021 Concacaf Champions League and 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 champions last year and they have some really good players, ”said team head coach Caleb Porter. “We watched their games and we have a lot of respect for their club. . . we don’t need to chase after this game, but we definitely need to get off to a good start.
Porter said they didn’t need to chase after the game as it was the first in a two-man series against Real Esteli FC. Columbus will host the second leg on April 15 with 3,600 fans in attendance.
The crew qualified for the tournament by winning the 2020 MLS Cup.
Columbus kept his most important players from the championship race: Lucas Zelarayan, Darlington Nagbe, Pedro Santos, Gyasi Zardes, Eloy Room, Jonathan Mensah and José Artur of Lima Junior. But the crew also added a few key things that make them one of the favorites to win the Fan Shield and repeat themselves as MLS Cup champions.
New faces in Cbus
Kevin Molino, Winger: Molino will probably be the only new addition from Columbus. He scored nine goals and two assists in 18 games for Minnesota last year and will fill a void in the left or right wing. The 30-year-old has signed a multi-year contract.
Bradley Wright-Phillips, forward: Despite being 36, Wright-Phillips has a lot to offer the crew as a replacement for Zardes. Wright-Phillips ranks sixth all-time in goals scored in MLS (116) and can provide a spark when it’s needed at the end of a crucial game.
Marlon Hairston, defender: Hairston will play his 8th season in MLS and replace Harrison Afful at right-back, a major transition from his usual position as a winger. Hairston was brought to the club through a free agency.
Evan Bush, goalkeeper: Bush is an Ohio native who brings nine years of MLS experience to the crew. Columbus did not resign from Andrew Tarbell and needed a Number 2 to replace Room when he needed a rest or played internationally.
Perry Kitchen, Midfielder: Kitchen, 28, joins Columbus from the LA Galaxy and has been playing in MLS for a decade. He will provide much needed depth to the 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 match in Nicaragua but will be available for the second leg on April 15.