Columbus Crew 2 is back in action on Sunday, traveling to take on Toronto FC II, the third and final game between the two teams in this inaugural MLS NEXT Pro season. Crew 2 looks to sweep Toronto after taking both of the previous matchups at Historic Crew Stadium in Columbus, quickly becoming one of MLS NEXT Pro’s first rivalries in the process.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a derby for us, but it is kind of a little rivalry, we got into, in a healthy way,” Black & Gold head coach Laurent Courtois said of the brief series this week.
Columbus defeated TFC II in the two teams’ first matchup back in April, as Crew 2 came back down from a goal to win 2-1. The next month saw Crew 2 impress fans at Lower.com Field in a delayed match, defeating Toronto 4-2. In that match, captain and midfielder Marco Micaletto scored in the first minute of the game to set the tone.
Courtois stated that the squad is coming into this match healthy, something he was concerned about going into last week’s game against the Philadelphia Union II before the game was postponed.
“It was disappointing,” Courtois said of the postponement, “but maybe for the best in the long term. We were able to get work done and also readjust and give a little bit of need rest to other players.”
Heading into the scheduled game against Philadelphia, Crew 2 was coming off of a loss to Rochester New York FC in a penalty shootout but still remains in first place in all of MLS NEXT Pro with 31 points. However, without the league’s joint-top goal scorer, Jacen Russell-Rowe in the squad — the striker was signed to the first team late last month and has started the last three games for the Black & Gold — this could be a very different-looking team.
TFC II is getting hot, coming into this match on a two-game winning streak, ironically last losing to the RNYFC on penalty kicks as well. More importantly, Toronto is finding the team’s defensive identity, shutting out both New York City FC II and the Union II in the last two games.
Toronto has found itself middle of the road this season, sitting sixth in the Eastern Conference at the moment. However, with a win over a high-powered Crew 2 offense that may be attempting to redefine the team’s identity, the Reds may be able to gain the stability and confidence to push through to the rest of the season.
TFC II will surely be up for this one more than normal as Columbus seemingly has Toronto’s number at the moment. The Reds will want to get back against their potential rivals, as the two teams play their first match at York Lions Stadium.
“Everyone comes out us with a bit of a chip on their shoulder, but with them especially, with how things have flared up in the past, there’s a bit of aggression there,” said Crew 2 forward Coleman Gannon.
The intensity will be riding high Sunday night at 7 p.m. ET as the game kickoffs at York Lion Stadium. After the match, Crew 2 is back in Columbus to take on FC Cincinnati 2 next Saturday night in a game that will surely bring a similar intensity as it is the two rivals’ first meeting.