The first game for the Columbus Crew’s 2021 MLS Cup title defense has been announced. The Black & Gold will host the 2020 Supporters’ Shield winners, the Philadelphia Union on Sunday, April 18 at 5:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1. The rest of the 2021 MLS schedule is expected to be announced in two weeks.
The first three games for the Crew are now known. Columbus will play its first competitive game of the new campaign on Thursday, April 8, when the team travels to Managua, Nicaragua to take on Real Esteli in the CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16. The following Thursday, the Black & Gold will host Esteli in the second leg at historic Crew Stadium. Three days later, it will be a nationally televised battle against the Union. This home-opening match is expected to be one of three or four final games at historic Crew Stadium before the new downtown Crew Stadium opens in July.
Last season, these two clubs claimed the most coveted trophies in MLS. The Crew won the club’s second MLS Cup in 2020 after a 3-0 win against the Seattle Sounders. Philadelphia won the Supporters’ Shield trophy with 47 points, six above the Columbus Crew, in 23 games. The Union ended its season at home with a first-round upset loss to the New England Revolution 2-0 at Subaru Park.
Combined, the clubs had four players that featured in the MLS Best XI. For Columbus, Jonathan Mensah received the honor while the Union’s goalkeeper, Andre Blake, defender Mark McKenzie and midfielder Brendan Aaronson joined him. McKenzie and Aaronson now play in Europe with Genk and RB Salzburg, respectively.
The Crew and Union played twice in 2020 and both matches took place in Columbus. The first game on Sept. 2 ended with a 1-0 Columbus victory with a Lucas Zelarayan goal. The second meeting was a nationally televised battle on ABC in the cold and flurries of Nov. 1. The Black & Gold won 2-1 with substitute Krisztian Nemeth scoring 44 seconds after coming on in the 84th minute.
The 2021 season will mark the third consecutive year Columbus will host the Crew’s opening match of an MLS season. In 2019, the team drew the New York Red Bulls 1-1 in front of roughly 18,000 people. Last year, the Black & Gold were victorious with a 1-0 win against New York City FC with Zelarayan scored the winning goal on his MLS debut.
One interesting statistic of note is this will be the Crew’s first MLS game in April in nearly two years. Last season, the league had no matches played during April after the season was suspended on March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Columbus’ last April MLS match was in 2019 against the Houston Dynamo that ended with a 2-0 loss.
The announcement of the Crew’s home opener was coupled with the other 26 home-opening games for teams in Major League Soccer. The 2021 season will open on Friday, April 16 at 8 p.m. when the Houston Dynamo host the San Jose Earthquakes with a Western Conference Final rematch in Seattle between the Sounders and Minnesota United later that evening.
Crew fans can now mark the opening date on their calendars. It’s just 39 days until kick off.
2021 MLS Opening Weekend
FRI April 16
Houston Dynamo vs. San Jose Earthquakes (8:00 pm)
Seattle Sounders vs. Minnesota United (9:30 pm)
SAT April 17
New York Red Bulls vs. Sporting Kansas City (1:00 pm)
CF Montreal vs. Toronto FC (2:00 pm)
Los Angeles FC vs. Austin FC (5:30 pm)
D.C. United vs. New York City FC (8:00 pm)
Chicago Fire vs. New England Revolution (8:30 pm)
Nashville SC vs. FC Cincinnati (8:30 pm)
SUN April 18
Inter Miami vs. LA Galaxy (3:00 pm)
Columbus Crew vs. Philadelphia Union (5:30 pm)