The Columbus Crew 2 seems to gain chemistry as the weeks go on in this first MLS NEXT Pro season. Crew 2 currently sits in first place in the Eastern Conference, with nine points through the team’s first four games, which includes a three-game winning streak after the Black & Gold lost their debut match against Inter Miami II. A large reason for Columbus’ early success has been the bond the team has formed since its first preseason in Charlotte, North Carolina.
As Crew 2 welcomes Toronto FC II to the Historic Crew Stadium on Sunday for the team’s second home match of its existence, head coach Laurent Courtois is happy with that bond. He sees the chemistry of his group, made up of mostly players who hadn’t met prior to arriving in Columbus a few months ago, as something has grown quickly and continues to do so.
“I’m surprised about how this group composed of individuals initially is becoming,” Courtois said this week. “Still a work in progress, but is becoming a team, a collection and whole entity.”
Crew 2 started the bond during that preseason trip to Charlotte at the beginning of March. This group is a mix of veterans players that have played professional soccer before to players from various academies, all of which are getting meaningful minutes. With wide age gaps and players coming from multiple countries, added to the fact that there will be a ton of rotation and elevated training, no one knew what this first season in MLS NEXT Pro would entail. But the players’ selflessness has created the feel of a real club in the first season.
However, it wasn’t all rosy. Columbus immediately got off to a rocky start, losing the season opener against Inter Miami II 2-0 on the road. A new team could have folded or become discouraged with that result but Columbus did the opposite.
“When you have that much companionship together it’s easier to deal with the storms and you’re able to manage them in the way best,” Courtois said. “But the way this group lives together, it’s amazing me every day.”
Since the opening loss, Columbus is undefeated with three straight wins, each coming with a shutout.
Two of the team’s brightest young stars, defender Mo Farsi and forward Jacen Russel-Rowe demonstrated some of their chemistry in the Black & Gold’s first home match last week, a 2-0 win against Orlando City B. It was Farsi who found Russel-Rowe for the opening goal of the match, showing the great connection that’s forming between, not just on the field but off it as well.
“He really just tells me to get in the box, that’s where you live, that’s where you’re going to score and I’m going to put the ball in there for you,” Russel-Rowe said of Farsi this week.
That kind of leadership and selflessness has helped build these recent wins.
“I’m really ready for all my teammates,” Russel-Rowe continued. “I’m always trying to be in the box, ready to score and I think that’s a mentality we have in the team in general.”
Russel-Rowe has hit the ground running in Columbus, scoring in each of the last two matches to lead the team in goals. The man on the assisting ends of those goals was Farsi himself, who leads the team in assists. The two’s bond is a prime example of the culture and companionship that is fighting through adversity and coming out with results.
All of the team’s resiliency was rewarded when the Crew 2 finally played that first home game of the season last week against Orlando City. The Black & Gold played in front of the biggest crowd the team had seen in MLS NEXT Pro at Historic Crew Stadium after starting the year with three straight road games. Columbus hopes the fans continue to pile in and the team comes closer and closer, as it feels like Crew 2 is building something special right now.