Columbus Crew 2, the Crew’s Second Team, can become the inaugural MLS NEXT Pro champion on Saturday afternoon when the Capybaras host St. Louis CITY2 at Lower.com Field. Here’s everything you need to know before the championship kicks off.
MLS NEXT Pro Final Preview
The Capybaras have a chance to win the inaugural MLS NEXT Pro Cup Championship on Saturday afternoon when they host CITY2 at Lower.com Field.
Tickets are available for as low as $5 for First Team Season Ticket Members, while seats are only $10 for others. This is a general admission event, so it’s your chance to sit anywhere in the stadium and potentially see the Black & Gold hoist a trophy.
CITY2 was the Western Conference champion and tied several Western Conference clubs with 49 points from the 24-game regular season. Josh Dolling is the club’s leading scorer with nine goals during the league campaign.
Saturday afternoon is a fitting conclusion to the first MLS NEXT Pro season, as the regular season champions meet for the first time to crown the rightful champ. Hopefully, that means the regular season winners win the ultimate postseason prize, too.
Food & Beverage Specials
It’s a momentous occasion, so the following specials will be offered at Lower.com Field on Saturday (locations in parentheses):
- $2 off alcoholic beverages (The Pub, Miller Lite Bar, Dirty Frank’s, Station 96, Donatos, Tipico Sportsbook Biergarten Bar, and Upper 614 Pours)
- Hot Chocolate (The Pub, Miller Lite Bar, Dirty Frank’s, Station 96, Donatos, Tipico Sportsbook Biergarten Bar, and Upper 614 Pours)
- Coffee (The Pub, Dirty Frank’s, Donatos, and Tipico Sportsbook Biergarten Bar)
How Crew 2 made the MLS NEXT Pro Final
To call the Capybara’s run to the final dramatic seems like it slightly understates the club’s postseason adventure. First came a 4-1 beating of Rochester New York FC in the Eastern Conference semis.
That set up a classic Eastern Conference Final, when Crew 2 beat Toronto FC II, 4-3, after extra time. Crew 2 carried a 2-1 lead into second-half stoppage time, but conceded in the 93rd minute, which sent the match to extra time. Then, the club conceded once more, trailing, 3-2. But Jordan Knight leveled the match in the 109th minute before Coleman Gannon sealed the Eastern Conference championship in the 119th minute.
Crew 2 players are already winning awards
It’s no surprise that the best team in MLS NEXT Pro league play is stacked with award winners, right?
Four of the league’s Best XI play right here in Columbus, including Schulte, Farsi, Parente and Russell-Rowe.
While Russell-Rowe’s goal record was mentioned earlier, Parente’s goal tally was equally as impressive as his distribution abilities, as the center midfielder completed 89% of his passes.
As a fullback, Farsi finished the regular season with 10 assists, which tied an Inter Miami II player for most assists in the league. Farsi also scored twice and produced an 85.7% passing completion rate.
Schulte was named the inaugural MLS NEXT Pro Goalkeeper of the Year and finished second in league with seven clean sheets and was a massive reason why the Capybara’s tied Houston Dynamo 2 for the fewest goals conceded. The 2022 SuperDraft pick made 15 starts and allowed 1.0 goals per game, in addition to recording 38 saves.
Let’s not forget about Crew 2 head coach Laurent Courtois, who was voted the MLS NEXT Pro Coach of the Year for leading the Capybaras to a 16-3-5 regular season record with two shootout wins.
The league MVP was announced today, and it was none other than Crew 2’s very own Jacen Russell-Rowe!
Who are Crew 2?
Crew 2 is officially the club’s Second Team and bridges the Crew Academy and the Crew First Team in the organization’s player development system. Like the First Team, Crew 2 trains at the OhioHealth Performance Center, but most of it’s matches are played at Historic Crew Stadium, where the First Team played from 1999-2021.
Fans of the First Team will certainly recognize a few Crew 2 players who were called up by head coach Caleb Porter throughout the 2022 season. Jacen Russell-Rowe and Mohamed Farsi started the year on Crew 2 and became the first players from the Second Team to feature in a First Team match on June 18 against Charlotte FC.
Russell-Rowe led Crew 2 with an astonishing 21 goals from 19 regular season league matches, while Noah Fuson played every match and scored nine goals, and Marco Micaletto produced eight.
Sean Zawadzki, who filled in as a First Team center midfielder earlier this year, is on the Crew 2, as well as Isaiah Parente, who had a similar fill-in role in 2021. Goalkeeper Patrick Schulte was the club’s 12th overall pick in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft.
Why is Crew 2 known as the Capybaras?
Well, Crew 2 isn’t named for a native Ohio animal – you’d need to visit South or Central America to see a capybara in the wild. The Capybaras name originated by Black & Gold supporters in a Discord chat. The nickname was suggested and it stuck – and it’s been an organic bond between the Second Team and fans. Last month, a more in-depth article was written about the club’s name origin.
Don’t worry: The soccer Capybaras actually met real Capybaras to celebrate Capybara Appreciation Day at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in July.
What is MLS NEXT Pro?
Established by MLS in June 2021, MLS NEXT Pro began play earlier this year and connects the pathway between club academies and their first teams. The introduction of the league allows players to remain in a team’s pipeline, such as the Crew’s, without needing to play elsewhere in between the massive leap from graduating an academy and joining the first team MLS squad.
MLS NEXT Pro not only creates additional opportunities for players, but it’s also an invaluable league for clubs hoping to develop all levels of their team, from rosters to coaches and the technical staff.
Crew 2 was among the inaugural 21 teams that played a 24-game league schedule in 2022, and the club dominated both the Eastern Conference and the league overall. Finishing with 55 points from 24 games, Crew 2 won the Central Division by 19 points, the Eastern Conference by 41 points and boasted a six-point lead over the best Western Conference side.
COURTESY CREW COMMUNICATIONS