The 2021 season is officially off and running for the Columbus Crew. While the Black & Gold won’t open the new Major League Soccer campaign until Sunday when the Philadelphia Union comes to town, Columbus will play its second competitive game of the year on Thursday night against Real Esteli in the CONCACAF Champions League.
The Crew holds a massive 4-0 advantage after last week’s win in Nicaragua. With some injuries and yellow cards received in the first leg, it is expected that Caleb Porter will heavily rotate his team in the second meeting against Esteli.
While it’s tough to predict a game without knowing much about how a team will line up, that’s what we asked of our staff. Here are their predictions.
This game will not have much with Real Esteli needing a literal miracle to advance and not having the quality to get at least four goals in Columbus. The Crew’s rotated lineup will get a win in a match that is more a formality than anything. The Champions League quarterfinals will feature the Black & Gold.
Columbus Crew 1 Real Esteli 0
After I cautiously predicted a 1-1 draw a week ago — and got ridiculed for it on Twitter despite sound logic — I will be more optimistic this week. While I do think we will see a very different lineup than the group that started against Esteli last Thursday, I believe in the depth the Crew built in the offseason. I also learned that Real, despite domestic success, may just not be very good.
I do think the Black & Gold will play the game a bit safer, looking to avoid giving anything up and not getting into any needless altercations or challenges that could lead to more injuries, but Caleb Porter stated this week that the team will come out to win the game. They’ll do that with Bradley Wright-Phillips grabbing his first goal in Crew colors.
Columbus Crew 2 Real Esteli 0
After the Crew’s drubbing of Esteli in Nicaragua, the second leg promises to be an interesting affair. Needing several goals to win, Esteli may look to push the tempo early. However, the ever pragmatic Caleb Porter will have the squad ready to manage things. Despite the quick start, the Crew will slow things down and take control and finish with a commanding victory over two legs.
Columbus Crew 2 Real Esteli 0
Columbus was far and away the superior side in the first 45 minutes of leg one. Thursday’s match is going to look more like the second half of that contest. Real Esteli increased the intensity and disrupted the Crew. Being down 4-0 is going to bring that same intensity.
A first half goal by Esteli, against a starting 11 that likely doesn’t start again collectively, will give the Nicaraguan side hope. Columbus’ Bradley Wright-Phillips will score his first goal in Ohio’s black and gold before the end of the half.
In the second half, Columbus and Real Esteli will both score another one and bring the final aggregate to 6-2. Winger Luis Diaz will score the second goal for the Crew.
Columbus Crew 2 Real Esteli 2
With a fully healthy or available Crew roster, I would expect to see players like Marlon Hairston, Kevin Molino, or Alexandru Matan. But one game into the season and it’s already a test of the depth in Columbus. The Black & Gold still have the better team and a four-goal away cushion to rely on. Real Esteli will likely press more this match after finding some success pressing in the second half back in Nicaragua. Still, expect the Crew to come away with the series win. As a bonus, I’m predicting the first goal in Columbus for Bradley Wright-Phillips.
Real Esteli 2 Columbus Crew 1
Do you have a prediction for tonight’s game? Let us know in the comment section below.