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Massive Predictions: Crew vs. Real Esteli

The Black & Gold hope to start the 2021 campaign with a Champions League victory

Managua FC v Real Esteli - Nicaraguan Liga Primera Photo by Inti Ocon/Getty Images

The Columbus Crew opens the 2021 season on Thursday night, but it won’t come against a Major League Soccer opponent or even in the team’s own country. This year, the Black & Gold begin in the campaign in the CONCACAF Champions League against Real Esteli.

If you are unfamiliar with the Champions League, Massive Report has an explanation here, but essentially this is a continental tournament that gives Columbus the opportunity to play the best in the region. Each round — this is the Round of 16 — will be a two-leg, home-and-home series, with the exception of the final, with aggregate goals as the decider on who advances.

The Crew has made it clear that after winning the MLS Cup in 2020, that the team wants to continue to compete for trophies this year, and the Champions League is a priority. There would be no better way to show that than by going out and getting a win in Nicaragua, making for an easier return leg at home in a week’s time, three days before the MLS opener.

Will the Black & Gold get that win in the first official match of 2021? We asked the Massive Report staff for their predictions.

Nick Hudak

It’s tough to gauge a matchup with more questions than answers, especially considering it’s the first game of the season and the squad isn’t fully fit. Looking briefly at Real Esteli, they can score goals, concede few and are in the middle of their domestic season. They have one of the top scorers in the division in Juan Berrera and he should keep the Crew’s backline busy for a majority of the evening.

I can’t see Esteli posing a massive issue for Columbus but being an away game, the first in over four months and the team having to travel from preseason training, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Black & Gold aren’t fully match sharp just yet. The CONCACAF Champions League has dished out curveball after curveball and this match shouldn’t be any different. On paper, the quality still favors Columbus and so does my first prediction of 2021.
Columbus Crew 2 Real Esteli 1

Guilherme Torres

Making a prediction for the first match of the season is never an easy task but this year it gets even more complicated due to the little information we have about Real Esteli. The Crew, however, had easily the best draw among MLS clubs for the first round and I expect a comfortable win to start the team’s Champions League campaign considering Columbus managed to keep the core of its squad nearly intact in the offseason.

I expect some rustiness to start the game and perhaps even some early pressure from Esteli, who are in midseason form, but I anticipate the Black & Gold taking control of the game in the middle of the first half and scoring twice to take a comfortable lead back to Columbus.
Columbus Crew 2 Real Esteli 0

Patrick Guldan

The Crew’s 2021 opener is harder than it first appears. Real Esteli may be a minnow in CONCACAF Champions League, but Columbus is kicking off its campaign with a challenging road trip to Central America after an abbreviated preseason.

The game will likely be extremely scrappy as Real Esteli will look to limit how the Crew plays, slowing down any momentum. Columbus likely will lack fluency during play after not playing a competitive game in just over four months. The Black & Gold will have enough pure talent to pull through with a win. It will just likely be ugly.
Columbus Crew 2 Real Esteli 1

Patrick Murphy

It will be an interesting opening game to the 2021 season for the Crew. The Black & Gold went straight from the final stage of preseason to Nicaragua, meaning they’ve been on site for some time now. But this is a team that is harder to learn about than a standard MLS opener and even some other teams Columbus could have drawn in the Champions League.

The Crew will not complain however, as the team did well in drawing Real Esteli. The Black & Gold are favorites in this series, which should see the team advance to the next round. I expect there to be more challenges in this game than the home leg in a week, given it’s the first real contest of the year for Columbus and the 13th for Real, but I think the Crew gets an important away goal and aheads home feeling confident.
Columbus Crew 1 Real Esteli 1

Thomas Costello

It makes sense that the Crew is going to have a slow start. The Black & Gold are playing in their first competitive match since the MLS Cup Final in December. A few early defensive stops will help wake the team up. Real Esteli will have a hard time breaking through the Columbus backline. I see Pedro Santos and Luis Diaz scoring goals for the Crew in the second half for a victory.
Columbus Crew 2 Real Esteli 0

Orri Benatar

It’s the first game in five months for Columbus while Real Esteli is in mid-season form. I believe that does have an effect on the Crew with some rust to shake off for Thursday’s game but the Crew’s squad is too strong for this Esteli outfit. Two road goals will put the Black & Gold in a great position for the home leg next week.
Columbus Crew 2 Real Esteli 1

Adam Miller

The Crew makes its return to the CONCACAF Champions League with a tricky trip to Nicaragua. Esteli will give the Black & Gold a challenge as they are in the midst of their season and this is the Crew’s first match of the year. The Crew will struggle to find a rhythm early and Esteli will hang around. In the end Columbus have too much quality and goals from Gyasi Zardes and Pedro Santos push the Crew to victory.
Columbus Crew 2 Real Esteli 1

Collin Johnson

It’s been more than 100 days since the last competitive Crew match but it still feels like yesterday. With a restocked roster, the Crew will look to kick off the CONCACAF Champions League in style at Real Esteli. MLS teams have had a surprisingly strong batch of away legs in this round of the tournament with all four teams to play so far coming away with at least one point and scoring some road goals.

Columbus plays the lowest-rated team of the bunch in Real Esteli, but it’s a team who is both in mid-season form and used to playing in the hot and humid climate of Nicaragua. Meanwhile, the Black & Gold have played multiple preseason matches but have really not yet put together a lineup that would have been expected to get a result in any of those.

If the Crew is able to return to its 2020 form, they shouldn’t have any trouble taking at least a goal to Columbus for the return leg, but if the Black & Gold are still in preseason mode, it might be a long night.
Columbus Crew 2 Real Esteli 1

Let us know your predictions for this Champions League match in the comment section below.