COLUMBUS, Ohio — The story of the Columbus Crew in 2018 will echo throughout American soccer for decades to come. The 2019 team faces a tall task — making everyone forget about that. Now that the franchise is saved, full focus can return to every team’s ultimate goal, winning trophies.
While the Crew may seem new with a completely different coaching staff, front office and owners, the players remain remarkably similar. An undefeated preseason saw the club clinch the Carolina Challenge Cup for the third year in a row. But that regional trophy remains the only hardware added to MAPFRE stadium in a decade now. The plan for the season is to put a meaningful addition in the cabinet.
“I came here to win trophies,” new head coach Caleb Porter said, “MLS Cup, Supporters’ Shield, Open Cup — we’re going for it.”
Crew SC look to avenge playoff exit vs. Red Bulls in home opener
When: Saturday, March 2, 4:30 p.m. ET
Where: MAPFRE Stadium
Broadcast: TV — Sports Time Ohio
Live stream: Fox Sports Go and supported apps
The buzz: The New York Red Bulls shocked the league in 2018 by toppling Toronto FC’s regular-season points record, snatching the shield away from Atlanta United in surprising fashion. The team is still looking for its first MLS Cup and is playing with a chip on their shoulder after that record-breaking year went largely unheralded.
The Crew need to finally take the next step. Despite limited roster turnover, questions on the field remain. Who can score outside of Gyasi Zardes and Federico Higuain? Will Justin Meram return to form? Will Pedro Santos finally live up to his DP price tag? There is added pressure to the early half of the season with Zack Steffen between the posts only until the Gold Cup break. After that, he departs for Manchester City. Though the Crew have serviceable backups, unless a new signing is made, there will be a significant talent drop once Steffen departs.
Other key matches
April 20 vs. Portland Timbers – Caleb Porter’s first match against his old team will come at the same place where he won the 2015 MLS Cup. Six of the 11 Columbus starters in that Cup final still play for the Crew in 2019 and are always looking to avenge that loss and measure themselves against the perennial playoff team from the west.
Aug. 10 vs. FC Cincinnati – The rivalry begins in earnest. Dubbed the “Hell is Real” derby thanks to an iconic I-71 billboard, FC Cincinnati and Columbus Crew SC will meet as MLS opponents in a meaningful match for the first time. The Crew won a preseason matchup this year, but Cincinnati has the only competitive win, coming in the 2017 US Open Cup. Both squads will want inaugural bragging rights for the MLS clash.
Check out the full 2018 schedule here.
Quotes & Notes
“Our preseason has prepared us to be match fit and ready to go for the start of the season,” team captain Wil Trapp said, “If anything, we have a little bit less on our legs at this point in the season. Sometimes those things can wear on a team, but either way, the emotion will be there, the fitness level that we have is excellent — now it’s just putting together a performance.”
“They were able to start the season ahead of us, so they’ve had some more training contacts and ramped their team up a little quicker for the Concacaf Champions League,” Porter said of the New York Red Bulls. “The negative is they have to play [Wednesday]. They have to figure out to prepare for this game at home, and then turn around and play us. So physically and tactically, it’s a little more work for them this week. We’ll see whether or not they rotate.”
Biggest offseason moves
- Sold 2018 MLS Goalkeeper of the year Zack Steffen to Manchester City for a record fee. The rising USMNT star won’t depart until after the Gold Cup break in the summer.
- Reacquired left back Waylon Francis from the Seattle Sounders one year after trading him. The move became urgent after breakout star Milton Valenzuela suffered a season-ending knee injury during preseason training.
- Acquired Francisco Wellington Barbosa de Lisboa, better known as Robinho, from Ceara SC of Brazil’s First Division. The winger will pressure Meram and Santos for playing time if either fails to produce.
Forwards – Patrick Mullins, 27; Edward Opoku, 22; JJ Williams, 21; Gyasi Zardes, 27.
Midfielders – Luis Arudo, 23; Ricardo Clark, 36; Artur, 22; Niko Hansen, 24; Federico Higuain, 34; Hector Jimenez, 30; Justin Meram, 30; Pedro Santos, 30; Eduardo Sosa, 22; Wil Trapp, 26; Robinho, 24.
Defenders – Lalas Abubakar, 24; Harrison Afful, 32; Alex Crognale, 24; Waylon Francis, 28; Aboubakar Keita, 18; Connor Maloney, 23; Jonathan Mensah, 28; Gaston Sauro, 29; Milton Valenzuela (injured), 20; Josh Williams, 30.
Goalkeepers – Joe Bendik, 29; Jon Kempin, 25; Ben Lundgaard, 23; Zack Steffen, 23.
See full roster details here.