Lower.com Field was rocking on Wednesday evening in Columbus, as the Crew, the 2020 MLS Cup champions, prepared to host the venerable Liga MX side, Cruz Azul. Los Cementeros had punched their ticket for the final by winning the Campeón de Campeones over Club León, while Columbus had beaten Seattle Sounders in the MLS Cup last December.
Columbus came into the match unbeaten in their last three encounters, as Caleb Porter’s side are making a late-season push for the playoffs, despite the absence of influential midfielder Artur. The DF side were also in good form, with just one loss in their last seven Liga MX matches, although a disappointing exit from the Concacaf Champions League at the hands of Monterrey would surely have upped the incentive for Juan Reynoso’s side as they sought a third trophy of 2021.
Columbus started the match off on the front foot and soon had a free kick some 25 yards from goal. Lucas Zelarayán took, and sent in a curling effort towards the wall, which Cruz Azul striker Bryan Angulo headed into his own net (3’). Los Cementeros responded well, however, increasing the pressure and earning a series of corners, forcing their three-man defense to play ever more narrowly. Juan Escobar forced Evan Bush into his first save, cutting inside with a curling effort (15’).
Ignacio Rivero would test Bush again a few minutes later (19’), but Crew were quickly away on on the counter (20’) as the match was being played at a frantic pace. Cruz Azul continued to press for an equalizer and wanted a penalty as Angulo was brought down in the area (30’), but their protests were waved away by the referee. Tempers would boil over as Pablo Aguilar fouled Miguel Berry on the counter, and the Liga MX side defender and his captain both found themselves in the book (33’).
Cruz Azul continued pushing in what was quickly becoming a very feisty match, but continued to leave themselves open at the back, as Crew remained a threat on the counter, albeit without increasing their lead, and the half drew to a close with the MLS side ahead, 1-0. Cruz Azul had a massive chance after the break, with Rodríguez firing over from close range (46)’ before Escobar hit the post a few minutes later (52’).
Angulo would then test Bush from the edge of the area (58’), but the Columbus goalkeeper gathered calmly, keeping his side ahead. Both sides would make changes, seeking to take control, and Columbus became more and more compact, even as Cruz Azul failed to fashion more chances. They would come to regret this fifteen minutes from time, as Crew captain John Mensah fired home from close range after La Maquina to double Columbus’ lead.
There was still plenty of fight left in the Liga MX side, but ultimately few clear chances, and when the final whistle blew after a breathless encounter, Columbus Crew had won the 2021 Campeones Cup in front of their supporters. The thrilling match marked an end to what’s been a busy and exciting six weeks of matches pitting Liga MX against MLS as Columbus joined Club León in winning an international trophy.
Campeones Cup Final
Columbus Crew 2-0 Cruz Azul
Columbus Crew: Angulo (og) 3’, Mensah 74’
Columbus Crew: Espinoza 66’
Cruz Azul: Aguilar 32’, Domínguez 32’, Corona 32’, Baca 45 + 1’
Columbus Crew: Bush; Santos, Keita, Williams, Mensah, Moreira (Afful 58’); Zelarayán (Wright-Phillips 78’), Fraser, Nagbe (Hairston 78’), Etienne (Valenzuela 58’); Berry (Espinoza 64’)
Substitutes: Espinoza, Dick, Francis, Parente, Hairston, Valenzuela, Matan, Lillard, Afful, Abdul-Salaam, Hurtado, Wright-Phillips
Manager: Caleb Porter
Cruz Azul: Corona; Escobar, Domínguez, Romo, Aguilar (Rodríguez 46’); Yotún (Alvarardo 68’), Baca (Giménez 46’); Fernandez, Pineda, Rivero (Otero 81’); Angulo (Passerini 76’)
Substitutes: Reyes, Otero, Martínez, Aldrete, Passerini, Gutiérrez, Rodríguez, Alvarado, Gímenez, Gudiño, Montoya, Jurado
Manager: Juan Reynoso