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Crew 2 attempts to become the first-ever MLS NEXT Pro Cup winners vs. St. Louis CITY2

The Black & Gold can add a reserve championship to their trophy case on Saturday.

Courtesy of Columbus Crew 2

Columbus Crew 2 hosts the first-ever MLS NEXY Pro final on Saturday against St. Louis CITY2. In the inaugural year of the MLS reserve league, the final will be played between the team that finished first in the Eastern Conference in the regular season and the first-place team in the Western Conference.

Crew 2 has had a remarkable season getting to the finals, finishing with a 16-3-5-2 record and the most points in MLS NEXT Pro. In the postseason, the Black & Gold had to go through Rochester New York FC in the quarterfinal and defeated Toronto FC II in the Eastern Conference Final last week in a dramatic game that went to extra time.

Columbus has already had a wildly successful season no matter the outcome on Saturday. Crew 2 saw four players named to MLS NEXT Pro Best XI, the most of any club, Patrick Schulte won the league’s Goalkeeper of the Year, Laurent Courtois won Coach of the Year, and forward and Golden Boot winner Jacen Russell-Rowe was announced on Friday as the MLS NEXT Pro Most Valuable Player.

Russell-Rowe was quick to give praise to the team after winning his award, stating, “I wouldn’t be able to score all those goals and to play the way I played without them behind me.”

Most important of all, given MLS NEXT Pro is a developmental league, the Black & Gold have signed two players to first-team contracts in Russell-Rowe and defender Mohamed Farsi.

Columbus has all the makings of a championship team. Crew 2 registered the most goals and assists and has allowed the least amount of goals during the MLS NEXT Pro regular season.

However, this will be a test unlike the Black & Gold have faced all season. St. Louis CITY2 was the second-best team in the league in 2022, finishing six points back of Columbus. These two sides have not faced off yet this season, and will be just as hungry to become champions.

St. Louis CITY2 scored the most goals outside of the penalty box of any team in the league (11), was third in goals scored (55), and has star players in many areas. Defender Kyle Hiebert was a runner-up for the MVP award and was named to the MLS NEXT Pro Best XI last month. Hiebert has played in the most games (26) and played the most minutes (2,336) of any player in the league. St. Louis also has Célio Antonio Pompeu Pinheiro Martins, who has the most successful dribbles and crosses of any player in the league.

“We know we are going to have our toughest opponent of the year, in the biggest moment, a final is the final, so let’s go after it,” head coach Laurent Courtois said of the opponent this week.

All eyes will be on the Crew organization this weekend, as the team attempts to win the first-ever MLS NEXT Pro Cup Final and the next day, the first team attempts to punch its ticket to the MLS Cup playoffs in the regular season finale against Orlando City SC.

“I would to have the opportunity to smash the corner flag,” said Courtois, as he was seen with the corner flag after the Eastern Conference finals win.

Kickoff for the MLS NEXT Pro Cup is scheduled for 1:30 pm at Field on Saturday afternoon.