Saturday marked the first-ever meeting between Columbus Crew 2 and Crown Legacy FC, Charlotte FC’s MLS NEXT Pro team. The match resulted in a 1-0 Crown Legacy victory, handing the Black & Gold their first loss of the 2023 season.
Crown Legacy started the match hot, with a big chance from forward Patrick Agyemang but the shot was fired wide left. Agyemang continued to be a menace down Crew 2’s right flank throughout the match. Just minutes later, the forward got another chance from a long ball into the right channel but defender Xavier Zengue and goalkeeper Stanislav Lapkes were able to close him down forcing the shot wide.
Columbus had a chance from a corner early in the first half, but the header had no power and ended up in goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega’s hands. Crew 2 then had a good opportunity when defender Abdi Mohamed put in a long switch that wing back Jordan Knight was able to get on the end of. Knight’s shot was right at Sisniega, however.
Black & Gold captain Marco Micaletto was able to make a nice play, driving at the defender and forcing him to commit, giving Mohamed space out wide that led to a nice cross. Crown Legacy regained possession immediately and the left back played a long pass down the channel to Agyemang who used his speed and size to easily get around Mohamed. One-on-one with the goalkeeper, Agyemang put the ball beyond Lapkes reach and Crown Legacy scored the only goal of the first half.
Mohamed went down with an injury in the 33rd minute. While dribbling, the defender looked to have planted his left foot in an odd position before falling too the field. After coming off for an evaluation, Mohamed came back into play and served a dangerous cross into the six-yard box that was knocked out for a corner. After playing the pass in, Mohamed stayed down out of play and was subbed off. Head coach Laurent Courtois confirmed the defender rolled his ankle after the match.
Columbus made one change at the half, bringing in Academy midfield product Brent Adu-Gyamfi for defender Ty Nero. The move pushed Noah Fuson back as the right center back and Adu-Gyamfi up on the right flank. Adu-Gyamfi caused plenty of issues for the Crown Legacy backline with speed and skill on the dribble. Once midfielder Cole Mrowka came on, Columbus was able to find more attacking possession.
Knight created the biggest chance of the night for Crew 2 in the 62nd minute as he sped past a defender who tripped Knight in the penalty box. Micaletto step up to take the penalty kick, but the try was down the middle and the keeper was not fooled.
Mrowka twice got on the ball into the 18-yard box in the 58th and 68th minutes. Both times, Mrowka was not able to get the ball out of his feet or to his preferred right foot by the time a defender closed him down.
The Black & Gold continued to probe the Crown Legacy box, but were unable to find a final ball to tie the match up. Adu-Gymafi fired a shot from the top of the penalty box in the 87th minute, but Sisniega got firm hands on the ball to keep it out.
While the first half was lackluster, Courtois was happy with how the young players were able to outplay Crown Legacy in the second half, namely players such as Adu-Gyamfi, Lapkes, and Mrowka. Columbus has largely played a significantly younger team than last season and continues to take the time to gel. But the quality from the Academy is apparent.
The young keeper, Lapkes, impressed again with quick decision making, sure hands and confidence. Similiar to Patrick Schulte, Lapkes plays off his line and gets involved in the build-up play. The only moment the 17 year old looked uncomfortable, was when he was thrust into a one-on -ne with Agyemang.
Gio De Libera and Nero are two other Academy players who continue to see action for Columbus. Micaletto has had high praise for De Libera, but has also admitted he has not been able to put all his talents on display yet. As these teenagers continue to develop at the MLS NEXT Pro level, Courtois hopes their talents will elevate.
Crew 2 was unable to find a late equalizer and was thoroughly bossed around the pitch in the first half. Last season, Columbus came out flat away at Inter Miami II and that defeat helped motivate the squad as they went on to become MLS NEXT Pro champions. The team will need to find ways to score without last season’s MVP Jacen Russell-Rowe.
Columbus returns home to host Miami on April 30th.