In the 26-year history of the Columbus Crew, the club has played in some big games. None, however, may be bigger than Wednesday night when the Crew host CF Monterrey in the first leg of the quarterfinal of the CONCACAF Champions League.
At a domestic level, the team has played for three champions and in multiple playoff games. At a continental level, the Black & Gold have had little opportunity to play competitive matches against the biggest clubs in CONCACAF. On Wednesday night, however, that changes when the Black & Gold take the field against one of the most successful clubs in both Liga MX and CONCACAF.
This will be just the third time Columbus plays in the Champions League quarterfinal, with the previous two matches against lesser-known clubs. In 2010, the Crew faced Toluca. who have never won the Champions League and is currently on an 11-year drought for a Liga MX trophy. In 2011, the Black & Gold faced Real Salt Lake, a team not classified as one of the more popular clubs in Major League Soccer.
Monterrey has a global reach with some of the most talented players from this region of the country. This is a big reason why Monterrey has four Champions League titles leading to multiple appearances in the FIFA Club World Cup.
Rayados’ presence in the Club World Cup has increased its popularity as one of those teams seen consistently competing with the likes of Real Madrid, Al-Ahly, Santos or Auckland City. Monterrey has finished in third place twice in that competition, showing the team can compete on the global stage. That is what the Crew aspire to become as a representative of the city of Columbus and MLS.
Whether the Black & Gold are on Monterrey’s level is yet to be seen, but there is a difference of opinion in that regard on both sides. Crew striker Gyasi Zardes says Columbus is “on the same playing field” as Rayados, while the manager of Monterrey Javier Aguirre claimed MLS is “under no circumstances on their level.” The ingredient of drama is added into the mix of this massive game.
The Champions League has been dominated by Mexican clubs, with no MLS team ever winning the competition. A record five of MLS sides are in the quarterfinals and the Crew has as good a chance as any to become the first team to lift the trophy from MLS.
But first, Columbus to prove itself and vanquish Mexican opposition and Monterrey is as good as the opposition gets. This match is a chance to announce the Black & Gold to the rest of CONCACAF and to other corners of the globe as a club that is here to compete. It’s great for the players, coaches, club, city, state and country. Head coach Caleb Porter understands this opportunity.
“It’s a goal of ours to do something that’s never been done,” said Porter. “In our club, we have very little history in the Champions League and we want to increase our visibility in CONCACAF and globally. These are great opportunities to do that. We want to measure ourselves against some of the best teams in CONCACAF. We have the opportunity to do that. We want to grow through these experiences. We want to show we’re a top team, not only domestically but internationally so we’re excited to be in it.”