Columbus Crew 2 will close out the regular season on Sunday at Historic Crew Stadium against FC Cincinnati 2. Crew 2 hopes to secure the team’s spot as the top overall seed in all of the MLS NEXT Pro to end the year and heading into the playoffs, while attempting to get revenge against Cincinnati from the two teams’ last meeting.
This season has been more than what most fans have could've hoped for the Black & Gold. Columbus has been the best team in MLS NEXT Pro throughout the year, with two players signed to the first team, and has played some extremely attractive attacking football. Luckily, the season will not stop here, as Crew 2 will host the MLS NEXT Pro semifinals in the playoffs on Sept. 24.
Despite everything in the Eastern Conference being locked up for the Black & Gold, Columbus still needs to secure at least a point to finish at the top team in the first season of MLS NEXT Pro. This game will also mean a ton for the players, as it is the rubber match in the series against rivals FC Cincinnati.
“We’ve always been focused on the Western Conference and seeing how many points teams have like St. Louis and Tacoma,” said Crew 2 midfielder Sean Zawadski this week. “We’ve always kind of been competing against them, and to try and get this number one spot, so we didn’t have to travel again, we want everything to run through Columbus and to have our fans here supporting us on our run to the MLS NEXT Pro Cup final."
FC Cincinnati 2 has had the opposite season to the Black & Gold. Cincinnati has the worst record in the Eastern Conference and comes into the game on a two-game losing streak. Cincinnati is playing this match to build confidence for next season and hopes to have bragging rights over the team's rival in the derby.
When asked if he was looking to rest many of the players in this final match of the regular season, Columbus head coach Laurent Courtois said, “We think that a lot of guys can be starters on this team. But the reality is we also want some kind of continuity, so that's why some of the guys are going to be less involved.” Courtois went on to stress that he wants to go for the best team possible in this match.
With such a great season for Crew 2, it is no surprise that many players are attempting to end the season with awards. Forward Jason Russell-Rowe is the leader for the MLS NEXT Pro Golden Boot with his 17 goals. He has a one-goal lead and a strong performance could lock up that award for him. Goalkeeper Patrick Schulte has a chance to tie for most clean sheets (7) with Caique Luiz Santos da Purificacao of Rochester New York FC (8). While it is a longshot, defender Mohamed Farsi could achieve the most assists if he has three against Cincinnati to tie Inter Miami II’s Romeo Beckham. All of these players and others will hope to be named in the MLS NEXT Pro Best XI for the season.
Once again Crew 2 will be back in action for the team's first-ever playoff game on Sept. 24 at Historic Crew Stadium. The Black & Gold opponent is yet to be determined, but Columbus fans can enjoy Buck-A-Brat night during the game.
Kick off for this match is set at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday.