The season is finally here! For the first time in a decade, the Columbus Crew will play a CONCACAF Champions League match on Thursday to begin the 2021 campaign. The Crew are in Managua, Nicaragua to face off against Nicaraguan powerhouse Real Esteli in the first leg of the Round of 16 at 8 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.
This match has huge implications for next Thursday’s second leg with the Black & Gold having a chance to gain an edge with some away goals. If the matchup is tied on aggregate after the second leg, the team with the most away goals will advance.
It’s been 117 days since the Crew played its last competitive match. That match resulted in an MLS Cup championship and Champions League berth with a 3-0 victory against the Seattle Sounders in historic Crew Stadium. Since that day, the Black & Gold have strengthened the roster with massive editions like Kevin Molino, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Alexandru Matan. The club still has all of its core players from last season like Lucas Zelarayan, Gyasi Zardes, Jonathan Mensah, Darlington Nagbe and more. Now Columbus is one of five teams trying to win MLS its first Champions League crown.
Real Esteli enters the competition having qualified as the fifth place finishers of the 2020 CONCACAF League that concluded this past February. It’s the Train of the North’s seventh appearance in the Champions League and first since 2016-17. The team has its eyes set on its first quarterfinal berth ever if Real can pull off the humungous upset again Columbus. Esteli is the second most successful team in Nicaraguan football with 18 Primera Division titles with a championship this past season.
While the Crew has yet to play a game in 2021, Esteli is in the midst of the Clausura section of the 2020-21 Nicaraguan Primera Division season. The team has just two wins in its last six league matches and sit in fourth place with six matches to go.
How to watch:
Date: Thursday, Apr. 8, 2021, 8 p.m. ET
Venue: Estadio Nacional - Managua, Nicaragua
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: English: 97.1 The Fan - Spanish: Columbus Crew YouTube
Streaming: FOX Sports App
CONCACAF Champions League Records:
Columbus Crew (3rd appearance)
Real Esteli (7th appearance)
2008-09: Preliminary Round
2011-12: Preliminary Round
2012-13: Group Stage
2013-14: Group Stage
2014-15: Group Stage
2016-17: Group Stage
CCL Schedule and Results:
Marathon 2, Portland Timbers 2
Alajuelense 0, Atlanta United 1
Arcahaie 0, Cruz Azul 0
Saprissa 0, Philadelphia Union 1
Club Leon 1, Toronto FC 1
CD Olimpia 1, Club America 2
Atletico Pantoja (DOM) vs. Monterrey (MEX): April 8, 10:00 p.m.