Four Columbus Crew players will be with their countries’ national teams this month. New signing Alexandru Matan was called-up to the Under-21 Romania national team for the U-21 European Championships. Along with Matan, Crew goalkeeper Eloy Room, defender Milton Valenzuela and winger Luis Diaz have all been called up to play for their respective national teams.
Romania will play its three group stage matches in Budapest, Hungary during this international break. Matan and company open on March 24 against the Netherlands, matchup with hosts Hungary three days later and will conclude the group stage on March 31 against Germany. The top two teams in the group will advance to the quarterfinals, which will take place in May.
Matan has yet to join his new club for preseason after completing his signing last week. The 21-year old attacking midfielder was reportedly signed by the Crew for an estimated $1.8 million as a secondary central attacking midfield option to Lucas Zelarayan. Matan played previously for Romanian club FC Viitorul Constanta. Matan played in 66 games in all competitions, scoring five goals and providing 12 assists with Viitorul.
Internationally, he has already made seven caps for the U-21 side since 2018. Matan impressed in the Under-19 squad, scoring eight goals in six games and continues to work his way up through the Romanian national team system. U-21 manager and former Romanian striker Adrian Mutu selected just four players to his team that play outside of Romania, with Matan being one of them.
This is just the third appearance for Romania in the U-21 European Championships. They hosted the competition in 1998 to makes their debut only to lose all three group stage matches. The tricolors returned in 2019 and had a remarkable tournament. Romania won its group with four-goal performances against Croatia and England to make the semifinals. They lost to eventual runners-up Germany 4-2 in the semifinal in Bologna, Italy.
This year's competition will be historic for two reasons. This tournament will be the first to be played in two separate stages with the group stage in March and the knockouts running from May to June. The 2021 U-21 Euros will also be the first to be co-hosted with Hungary and Slovenia awarded that honor. The next competition in 2023 will be co-hosted by Matan’s native Romania and Georgia.
The defending champions of the competition are Spain who has won three of the last five U-21 Euros since 2011. Besides all 16 teams fighting to win this competition, many players will see this as a chance to impress the managers for future selections to the senior team. Matan’s career trajectory has just been going up on the international level. A good few performances for Romania in Budapest and beyond could give him a shot to go to Tokyo for the Olympics, a tournament Romania has already qualified for.
The Crew is back home after its one-week preseason training camp in Chula Vista, California. The Black & Gold will train in Ohio over the next week before flying out to Orlando, Florida on March 21 for the last two weeks of preseason. The Crew will then fly to Managua, Nicaragua for its first match of the 2021 season against Real Esteli in the CONCACAF Champions League.