Columbus Crew SC 2021 Season Preview

The reigning MLS Cup champions are well positioned for continued success.

Led by stars Lucas Zelarayan, Darlington Nagbe, Gyasi Zardes and others, the team got even better and deeper this winter while keeping their Cup-winning core. Throw in a beautiful new stadium set to open on July 3 and things could hardly be better for the Crew right now.

With all that talent and depth, expect the Crew to make a run in the Concacaf Champions League and not miss a beat to start MLS play.

2020 season

  • MLS Reg. Season: 3rd place in Eastern Conference (41 pts - 1.78 PPG - 12-6-5)
  • Audi MLS Cup Playoffs: Champions. Defeated Seattle Sounders in MLS Cup 3-0

Star Players

Lucas Zelarayán
Midfielder · Columbus Crew SC

Zelarayan was everything he was hyped up to be and more. He was named MLS Cup MVP in his first season, contributing a ridiculous two goals and five assists in their four playoff games. He’s a legitimate MVP candidate. The only thing holding him back could be injuries or rotation in this long, congested campaign.

Darlington Nagbe
Midfielder · Columbus Crew SC

A winner everywhere he goes, it should come as no surprise Nagbe helped bring MLS Cup back to Columbus. He’s one of the league’s best passers and most press-resistant ballers. He sets the tempo.

Gyasi Zardes
Forward · Columbus Crew SC

Zardes is the reliable, consistent tip of Columbus’ attack. He was near the top of the Golden Boot race in the truncated 2020 season and will aim to make another run at it in 2021. Can he beat his personal-best 19 goals, set in 2018?

Young Player to Watch

Aidan Morris
Midfielder · Columbus Crew SC

The youngest ever MLS Cup starter, Morris was an unknown heading into the biggest match of the season. After a stellar 90 minute performance, all of the league knows his name and talent. What’s the 19-year-old got in store for 2021?

Key Acquisitions

  • Kevin Molino: Widely regarded as the top free agent on the market, Molino took his talents to Columbus. He had a career year in 2020 with nine goals and four assists in 1,264 regular season minutes then four goals in three playoff matches. He figures to jump into the starting XI opposite Pedro Santos.
  • Bradley Wright-Phillips: The league’s sixth all-time leading scorer, someone who just had eight goals and six assists in only 1,084 MLS minutes last season is … the Crew’s backup center forward? Yeah. That’s the kind of depth they got goin’ on in 2021.
  • Alexandru Matan: Matan, a Romanian youth international, is another addition to the incredibly deep attack. He’s a No. 10 who can also operate from the wing, giving Porter plenty of options to rotate and rest the star-studded starting group.

Key Departure

  • Youness Mokhtar: Mokhtar is really the only semi-regular player to depart from last year’s Cup-winning team, and even he only made nine regular season starts then didn’t appear in the playoffs. The Crew are stacked.

Projected Starting XI

columbus projected xi

2021 Roster

  • Goalkeepers (4): Evan Bush, Eric Dick, Matt Lampson
  • Defenders (9): Harrison Afful, Waylon Francis, Marlon Hairston, Aboubacar Keita, Grant Lillard, Jonathan Mensah, Milton Valenzuela, Josh Williams, Vito Wormgoor
  • Midfielders (11): Artur, Luis Diaz, Derrick Etienne Jr., Perry Kitchen, Alexandru Matan, Kevin Molino, Aidan Morris, Darlington Nagbe, Isaiah Parente, Pedro Santos, Lucas Zelarayan
  • Forwards (3): Miguel Berry, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Gyasi Zardes

Armchair Analyst's Breakdown

  • Strength: They were the best team in MLS last year when they were healthy, and even when they were partially unhealthy — as in MLS Cup — they still posted a record-setting win and got themselves a trophy. They have a style and ideology, and are at least two-deep at every position with guys who can execute it.
  • Weakness: I … don’t think they have one? You could argue “They’re a different and much lesser team when Zelarayan sits,” but “this team is worse when their best player isn’t available” is true of literally every team in every sport in the world. That’s not a weakness; that’s just how sports are. If you want to force me to make up a weakness I’ll say that I’m not convinced their top-end is quite as high as full-strength LAFC or Portland since those teams have more match-winners, but that’s also not really a weakness. That’s just a strength that’s possibly not quite as strong as the other top-tier contenders.


  • Charles Boehm: 2nd in East
  • Tom Bogert: 1st in East
  • Susannah Collins: 1st in East
  • Matthew Doyle: 1st in East
  • Sam Jones: 1st in East
  • Michael Lahoud: 1st in East
  • Joe Lowery: 1st in East
  • Jillian Sakovits: 2nd in East
  • Greg Seltzer: 1st in East
  • Steve Zakuani: 1st in East