Columbus Crew SC have never advanced past the quarterfinal of a continental club tournament, despite their relative vast history around these parts.
Columbus were eliminated at the quarterfinal stage of each of the Concacaf Giants Cup in 2001, Concacaf Champions Cup in 2003 and then twice in the modern Concacaf Champions League, in 2010 and 2011. If they are to make club history this year, it won't come easy.
The Crew are preparing for a quarterfinal clash against Liga MX giants CF Monterrey on Wednesday (8:30 pm ET | FS2, TUDN), the modern kings of this tournament, having won it four times over the last decade
“I’m excited this group has the opportunity to face one of the best teams in Concacaf," Crew head coach Caleb Porter said on a virtual press conference Tuesday. "It’s a great opportunity for this group, this club. Is it a statement maker? I don’t know. I’m less concerned about that, I’m more concerned about advancing. I’m excited to see where this group stacks up against one of the best teams in Concacaf.”
Columbus eased past Real Esteli 5-0 over two legs in the Round of 16, while Monterrey beat Atletico Pantoja 6-1 on aggregate. The winner of this series will face either Toronto FC or Cruz Azul in the semifinals.
Monterrey have a number of top talents leading their squad, such Rogelio Funes Mori, Vincent Jannsen, Dorlan Pabon, Miguel Layun and many more, but the Crew believe their squad stacks up in comparison. Led by Lucas Zelarayan, Darlington Nagbe, Gyasi Zardes and others, the Crew are excited for the challenge.
“I feel like we’re the same team," Zardes said when asked about talent. "We’re on the same playing field, I feel that way about every team in the Champions League. Every game is going to be a battle, tomorrow it’ll be two great clubs going head to head.”
The clash against CF Monterrey may hold even more importance to Zelarayan.
Columbus acquired the star midfielder last winter from Tigres UANL, the fierce city rival of Monterrey. Zelarayan spent four years with Tigres, winning the league three times with the Liga MX giants. Porter noted Zelarayan has been "flying" in training this week.
“It’s a very important match for Lucas, he was playing for Tigres for a very long time," fullback Milton Valenzuela said. "It’s important for us too because it’s a way to measure ourselves against Monterrey.”
Zelarayan will be crucial to Columbus' chances of advancing to the semifinal.
“They’re more experienced than we are in this position," Porter said. "Our group will be ready. Our group will be confident. Our group believes in what we do. We feel like we can execute, but it’s going to be tight.”