Columbus Crew SC had a goal going into the MLS is Back Tournament to get as many points as possible out of the group stage. With results counting toward any sort of shortened regular season that will exist after the tournament, head coach Caleb Porter emphasized how important these games could become.
It is mission accomplished for the Crew. The Black & Gold went 3-0 in group play of the MLS is Back Tournament, defeating FC Cincinnati, the New York Red Bulls and Atlanta United along the way. Columbus won Group E with ease as the only team yet to concede a goal in the tournament while scoring seven.
From a regular season perspective, the Crew sits atop the Eastern Conference with a 4-0-1 overall record — the team went 1-0-1 before Major League Soccer play was halted by COVID-19 — with 13 points, the most in MLS.
Next up for the Black & Gold is the MLS is Back Tournament knockout rounds. While Porter emphasized the importance of group play due to its impact on the regular season, the head coach compared the knockout rounds to that of the U.S. Open Cup, with a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League and just over $1 million in prize money on the line for the winner.
This is not to say Columbus won’t try and win the MLS is Back Tournament, especially given the uncertainty of what will happen after, but the focus was on the group stage heading into the tournament.
But not that the team is here...
For winning Group E, the Crew gets the second place team in Group D. After Wednesday night’s results, that team is Minnesota United. This means meeting up with an old friend, as Ethan Finlay spent the last three and a half seasons in Minnesota after the winger was traded from the Black & Gold in 2017.
United is 3-0-2 overall on the season and went 1-0-2 in MLS is Back. The Loons won their first two games of the MLS regular season, defeating the Portland Timbers 3-1 on the road on opening weekend before a 5-2 victory at the San Jose Earthquakes the following week.
After the shutdown, Minnesota returned to play in MLS is Back with a 2-1 win against Sporting Kansas City a week and a half ago. That was followed by a 0-0 draw with Real Salt Lake and then Wednesday night’s 2-2 tie with the Colorado Rapids.
Playmaker Kevin Molino leads the Loons with three goals on the season, but the midfielder did not start against the Rapids due to a hamstring strain suffered in the match prior. Finlay, new forward Luis Amarilla and defender Ike Opara — who is not with the team in Orlando — are all second with two goals on the year. Midfielder Jan Gregus is the team leader with three assists, while Finlay and defender Romain Metanire each have chipped in two helpers.
The Crew and Minnesota are scheduled to kick off at 8 p.m. ET on July 28. That game will air on ESPN.