According to a report by Cincy Soccer Talk, Columbus Crew SC will return to the Carolina Challenge Cup for the upcoming preseason. The news would be momentous as it marks the first official signs of a 2019 Crew SC season.
While hosts Charleston Battery haven’t announced the full slate of participants, the team did post on their official website that FC Cincinnati and the Chicago Fire will take part in the 2019 incarnation of the preseason tournament. In that announcement, the Battery said a third MLS team will be announced at a later date.
There is reason to think that Crew SC might be the unnamed team, aside from the report by Cincinnati Soccer Talk. Traditionally the winner of the prior tournament has returned in attempt to defend its crown and Columbus took home the trophy last preseason. Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter confirmed on Monday that the team’s preseason plans are set, but Major League Soccer hasn’t confirmed a 2019 Black & Gold season at this point.
Current investor/operator Anthony Precourt announced potential plans to move the Columbus-based franchise to Austin, Texas in October of 2017 and spent the last year trying to make that happen. On Oct. 12 of this year, the league announced it is working with a new potential ownership group that includes Jimmy and Dee Haslam, owners of the Cleveland Browns, and current team doctor, Pete Edwards who stepped down from his position with the team following the season.
With the sale of the team still not completed, the league has held off on announcing concrete plans for the upcoming year. The third MLS team to be announced is a placeholder for either Austin FC (a long shot) or Columbus (a near certainty) until the sale is done.
The Carolina Challenge Cup, held at MUSC Health Stadium, will take place for the 15th season after the USL side first held the preseason tournament in 2004. The four teams will play in a round robin style tournament with doubleheaders on Feb. 16, 20, and 23.
The competition would resume a nascent rivalry between the two Ohio professional teams. As a USL side FC Cincinnati hosted Crew SC at Nippert Stadium for a fourth round U.S. Open Cup game in June 2017. Columbus lost 1-0 in the inaugural matchup that fans dubbed the “Hell Is Real Derby,” thanks to signs stating “Hell Is Real” on the interstate between the two cities.
FCC are starting their first season in MLS and will play at least two games against the Black & Gold during the regular season, with the possibility of a third. MLS has historically matched close rivals with additional games as the schedule permits.
The prospect of concrete plans being made for 2019 would be another sign that the team has truly been saved. After the trials of the last year, fans want every reinforcing sign of proof they can get and this is another step in that direction