The last time the Columbus Crew hoisted a trophy, the Club celebrated its second MLS Cup inside a chilly Historic Crew Stadium. On Wednesday, the Club has the opportunity to raise another trophy – one involving the continent’s two biggest soccer leagues – inside the soccer cathedral that is Lower.com Field.
This Wednesday, the Crew, the reigning MLS Cup champions, will host Deportivo Cruz Azul, the Campeon de Campeones from Mexico – the winner of the Liga MX Apertura (Fall season) vs. Clausera (Spring season).
In short, it’s a chance for the best of MLS to play the best of Liga MX in a one-off, winner-take-all championship game.
A Clash of Champions at Lower.com Field
It's a match-up between the 2020 MLS Cup winners and the 2020 Liga MX winners on September 29 at Lower.com Field, as Columbus Crew is set to host Liga MX side Cruz Azul in Columbus, Ohio, for a chance to claim the championship title between the two biggest leagues in North America.
Black & Gold experience in the Campeones Cup
While this is the first appearance for the Crew in the Campeones Cup, some members of the Black & Gold have been on both sides of the competition.
Back in 2018, Bezbatchenko, who was then at Toronto FC, watched his team lose at home to Tigres at the hands of players like Lucas Zelarayán. Now, the duo is in Columbus, has an MLS Cup trophy and is vying for the team’s first international title.
“It’s the MLS champion against the Mexican champion, which is good for the game,” Zelarayán said. “It shows that the game will be an exciting match. Both Cruz Azul and (the Crew) want to win the match. It will be a tough, beautiful game, so we will try to do our best.”
In 2019, Darlington Nagbe was part of the Atlanta side that beat Club América in the last installment of the competition. The 2020 game was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s such a great game to be a part of,” Nagbe said of the Campeones Cup. “Winning that trophy meant a lot, not just to me, but to our team, especially being the first MLS to win.”
What a Campeones Cup would mean for the Crew
If there was doubt how the Black & Gold would approach this match in the midst of the MLS Cup Playoffs push, President & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko has made it clear the Crew want to win an international trophy.
“Since the day we’ve gotten here, myself, Caleb (Porter) and ownership have said we want to be a consistent contender for trophies,” Bezbatchenko said. “We want to be regularly in the mix to win cups.
“One of our other goals, aside from just being a contender, is bringing Columbus to the world. One way we can do that is by competing internationally in (Concacaf) Champions League, the Campeones Cup and maybe even the FIFA Club World Cup someday. That’s what this means for us.”
Zelarayán, the 2020 MLS Cup MVP, is just as eager to see the Crew lift a trophy inside Lower.com Field.
“It would be special (to win) not just for me but the whole team,” the playmaker said. “I think we’re all enjoying the new stadium a lot, so to win out first title there would be very special and beautiful. We would enjoy it a lot, so we will be serious about this game and take it on with responsibility and try to win it.”
Columbus against the world (or Concacaf)
This is the second time this season that the Crew are in a club competition against a Mexican team.
Earlier in 2021, the Crew made the quarterfinal of the Concacaf Champions League for the second time in history, as they beat Real Estelí (Nicaragua) before falling to CF Monterrey (Mexico) in the next round. In 2010, the Crew also reached the quarterfinals before getting knocked out by Toluca (Mexico).
Because no MLS club has won a Concacaf Champions League title yet, Atlanta remains the only American club to beat a Mexican club with a trophy on the line. The Crew can be the second next Wednesday night.
Getting to know Cruz Azul
Club Deportivo Social y Cultural Cruz Azul Asociación S.A. de C.V., or Cruz Azul, is a club based in Mexico City that was founded in 1927 and competes in the continent’s most famous soccer stadium, Estadio Azteca.
Cruz Azul, while historically a powerhouse team in Mexico, recently ended its 23-year drought between titles when it beat Santos Laguna in May to claim the club’s ninth Liga MX title.