Columbus Crew 2, the defending MLS NEXT Pro champions, celebrated last year’s accomplishments Sunday afternoon in front of a boisterous fanbase at Historic Crew Stadium in the team’s home opener. Crew 2 coach Laurent Courtois sent out a lineup of predominantly first-team players who had not gotten much time with the first team to kick off this match. The MLS talent overwhelmed New England Revolution II, who going into the game was 3-0.
The Black & Gold had goals from midfielder Isaiah Parente and forward Jacen Russell-Rowe, who was the MLS NEXT Pro Golden Boot winner last season, both regular first-team players,
Parente wore the captain’s armband Sunday for Columbus and the Homegrown product looked the part of a leader. He kicked off the scoring in the seventh minute with a nice finish on a pass from Russell-Rowe.
The forward not only played Parente into the penalty box ahead of the goal but also showed off his talented hold-up-play with his back to the goal. Ten minutes after the opening goal, Russell-Rowe showed off his striking talents with a beautiful curling shot that found the upper corner of the goal to put Crew 2 up 2-0.
After doubling the lead early in the first half, the Black & Gold just coasted and Revolution II never got close to getting back into the game. Courtois employed a back three, as he has been known to do, using first-team center back Philip Quinton to anchor the backline. Quinton looked every bit of an MLS defender playing in MLS NEXT Pro while olding down the defensive line in the wake of a few New England counters. Quinton had a number of blocks and clearances throughout the 90 minutes that helped keep a clean sheet.
A new Crew DNA emerges.
Anyone who watched their fair share of Crew 2 matches last year knows this team can handle adversity and fight through natural swings of momentum. Last year’s championship was the ultimate example of that trait.
Something noticeably different this season is the competitive edge in both Black & Gold teams. New first-team head coach Wilfred Nancy has discussed this point at length already this season, as it is not about winning and losing, it is about constantly competing and playing the right way offensively and defensively. Winning is merely a consequence of the character of the team.
Crew 2 displayed a significant amount of competitive spirit. Many players in uniform Sunday were on the field, or on the bench for the previous night’s first-team game. It was an emotional match, capped off by a late equalizer by Sean Zawadzki. The midfielder started for Crew 2 on Sunday, and many may have excused the youngster if he seemed to level down his intensity in a game that wasn’t as important as the one he played in last night.
That simply wasn’t the case for Zawadzki, or anyone else who played for Crew 2. Top to bottom, the team played on the front foot, pressed when needed and won the ball back numerous times. The Black & Gold imparted their will on New England and earned all three points.
Late substitutes make a big impact
Another striking parallel between Crew 2 and the senior squad is the tenacity of players coming off the bench. Coleman Gannon came off the bench in the 79th minute. in the 81st minute, Gannon assisted on a Marco Micaletto goal, who himself came off the bench in the 66th.
Gannon pressed the opposing keeper who played a heavy touch of the ball and lost possession to Gannon. the young Crew 2 player kept his cool and laid the ball off for Micaletto who ripped the ball into the back of the net to cap off a phenomenal day of soccer for Columbus.
Crew 2 hit the road to Mecklenburg County next week for a match-up against Eastern Conference leaders Crown Legacy FC. The game kicks off at 2 p.m. ET on April 23 and can be watched on Apple TV’s MLS Season Pass.