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Crew 2 wins MLS NEXT Pro Cup in inaugural season

The Black & Gold beat St. Louis CITY2 4-1 Saturday afternoon to claim the first-ever MLS NEXT Pro Cup.

Courtesy of MLS NEXT Pro

In a t a battle of the top teams in the league during the regular season, it was Columbus Crew 2 that came out the winners of the MLS NEXT Pro Cup on Saturday afternoon. The Eastern Conference winners Crew 2 and the Western Conference winners St. Louis CITY2 battled at Field and, in the end, the Black & Gold came away with a 4-1 victory to be crowned champions in the league’s first year.

Columbus had a slow start to the match. St. Louis CITY2 had the first golden opportunity in the sixth minute when midfielderCélio Pompeu hit a ball across the face of goal that was just too much for forward Josh Dolling. A mere two minutes later, Crew had a golden chance, as MLS NEXT Pro Golden Boot winner and Most Valuable Player Jacen Russell-Rowe found himself one-on-one with the St. Louis goalkeeper, forcing a good save with his shot.

Things started to kick off in the 35th minute when Pompeu flashed another ball across the face of goal but was deflected out. Four minutes later, CITY2 was almost gifted the lead when Black & Gold center back Phillip Quinton tried to head the ball back to goalkeeper Patrick Schulte, but the ensuing shot hit the side netting.

Columbus earned a free kick in a dangerous area in the 43rd minute, with the ensuing shot earning the hoe side the first of two penalty kicks of the game. The shot from the set piece was deemed to have hit the hand of a defender. Black & Gold midfielder Isaiah Parente made no mistake from the penalty spot to give Columbus a 1-0 lead just before halftime.

But the Black & Gold weren’t done in the opening 45 minutes. With the last kick of the first half, captain Marco Micaletto scored a goal from an impossible angle, hitting a ball into the 18-yard box that hit the St. Louis CITY2 goalkeeper and deflected into the goal to double Columbus’ lead heading into halftime.

“Let the record show that I meant it,” Micaletto said about his goal following the match. “But, no. The truth is I was looking for Jacen. And when you're running, you just glance. I wanted to hit a really hard ball. And I did a pretty good job at hitting a hard ball. And credit to me, it worked out good.”

Crew 2 controlled the game in the second half. Three minutes after the break, Micaletto had the chance to add a third, but his shot hit the outside of the post.

The Black & Gold got their second penalty of the game when defender Ryan Telfer tried to round the goalkeeper but was brought down instead. Russell-Rowe stepped up to the spot and buried the penalty to give Columbus a 3-0 lead.

St. Louis CITY2 did get on the board in the 80th minute following a mistake from Patrick Schulte. But Crew gott that goal back just three minutes later when Telfer blasted a shot into the corner after a great run down the flakn to round out the scoring.

Following the match, Micaletto was named the MLS NEXT Pro Cup Most Valuable Player.

With a championship in the team and the league’s first season, the future is bright for Crew 2 and the Black & Gold first team. Not only will the team look to repeat in 2022, but also help to ready players for the first team, as it did this season.

But on Saturday night, these players and staff rightfully get to celebrate.