Columbus Crew 2 is back at home this week against Rochester New York FC on Sunday at 2 p.m. at Historic Crew Stadium. This is a game between two of the hottest teams in MLS NEXT Pro. Columbus enters the game in first place in the Eastern Conference, currently on a seven-game winning streak, while Rochester has not lost in the month of May.
Crew 2 is coming off a 4-2 win against Toronto FC II at Lower.com Field last weekend which extended the winning streak that started with the second game of the year. However, the team isn’t paying attention to the number of victories at this point.
“I don’t think we know we’re on a seven-game winning streak,” said Crew 2 captain and midfielder Marco Micaletto. “For me, being a captain and a leader, I’m fortunate enough to have such an amazing group of lads that I don’t really have to do anything special.”
Rochester is having one of the best months of any team in MLS NEXT Pro, coming off of their 3-0 victory against Philadelphia Union II. RNYFC struggled prior to this month, coming away with only thre goals in four games. However, since then, the team has scored nine goals in three games and more importantly has only allowed two goals in the month.
A big reason for Rochester’s success is midfielder Pedro Dolabella, who has scored a least a goal in the last three games, earning himself a brace last week.
In the last few games, the defensive play has been far better, with 6-foot-6 defender Lamar Bastisa helping lead the way for Rochester. He has the third-most interceptions in the league with 20. Rochester typically plays a 3-4-3 formation, so it will be crucial to find and limit those gaps in the back that the Black & Gold attack has taken advantage of all season.
Of course, Columbus has found plenty of goals from the team’s star forward Jacen Russell-Rowe, who was just called up to the first team this week on a short-term loan. Russell-Rowe is currently tied for the lead in goals in MLS NEXT Pro with six so far in the campaign.
“He’s not only getting there showing his potential, but whether it is putting some weight on to have more impact in duels and be more aggressive, the recognitions tactically to make or not make a different type of run, he’s 50 percent of what the final version of what he can become,” said head coach Laurent Courtois of Russell-Rowe.
Both Columbus and Rochester have been hot finding the back of the net. Micaletto set the MLS NEXT Pro record for the fastest goal in the league last week, scoring in just nine seconds from the kickoff.
“We like to treat kickoffs as set pieces essentially and let’s be honest, we’ll do it out on the field and be like ‘is this really going to work?’ and nine seconds later, we’re all hugging each other at the corner flag,” said the captain. “It was a great feeling and I was just the lucky one that got to put the ball in the net. To be honest, to do it at Lower.com Field is just the cherry on top of the cake.”
That bond and chemistry have become a common theme throughout interviews with the Crew 2 players, constantly reiterating that this team is incredibly close.
“The one thing that I’m so proud about to be a part of is if I go in the group chat and I say, “Hey guys, let’s get together at this place and let’s do this activity.’ I’ve also been in locker rooms where you’d get like two or three people reply and be game. This locker room, you can’t plan it because everybody wants to be there, and everybody is bringing their girlfriends and everybody is bringing their dogs and cousins. Everybody just wants to be together the whole time and I think it shows on the field,” Micaletto said.
Crew 2 is enjoying quite the bond due to activities like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which the team took part in this week.
“When there’s somebody that is stronger than you or bigger than you, you have to approach from a different angle, and timing is everything too, so how can I not panic and find a solution without burning too much strength,” said Courtois.
Micaletto talked about the unique bonding experience saying, “Many might look and say, the boys did Jiu-Jitsu and say, that’s fun. Yeah, it is fun, but there’s so much more that goes into the fact that we’re willing to spend an hour of our day to do Jiu-Jitsu together rather than go home and sit on the couch.” He also added. “I wouldn’t mess with our head coach after having seen him wrap us into all sorts of shapes.
Courtois said there was a possibility the team would use Saturday’s Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid as a bonding experience as well before watching the first team at Atlanta United. This team is finding ways to connect with one another and it is creating a side that deals with adversity well, openness to change and a lot of wins. Rochester is the perfect test for a team riding as high like Crew 2.