After 252 regular-season games, 855 goals and six playoff matches, it all comes down to one game Saturday afternoon at Lower.com Field as Columbus Crew 2 host St Louis CITY2 in the MLS NEXT Pro Cup (1:30 pm ET | mlsnextpro.com).
Following two exhilarating and closely competitive conference final victories, both sides come into the final as the top seeds in Western and Eastern Conferences.
Let’s take a closer look at this MLS NEXT Pro Cup matchup.
The stage is set for a grand finale in the inaugural MLS NEXT Pro Cup as Eastern Conference champion Columbus Crew 2 takes on Western Conference champion St Louis CITY2.
Crew 2 triumphantly reached the final after escaping last week with a 4-3 win over Toronto FC II in extra time.
The visitors leveled the game with a last-minute free kick, but Crew 2 ultimately won by scoring two goals in the second half of extra time after trailing 3-2.
Crew 2 controlled possession and shot over 20 times with half of the shots on target. That being said, the home side easily could have wavered after TFC II equalized and took the lead.
On the contrary, Crew 2 showed immense reliance to fight back, regain the lead and hold firm to the advantage until the final whistle.
Now battle-tested and hungry to complete an incredible season, the team from the Ohio capital will look to blitz CITY2 with their electric frontline led by MLS NEXT Pro Golden Boot winner Jacen Russell-Rowe.
For more on Crew 2, a team profile is available here.
Russell-Rowe's latest masterpiece came in the opening round of the playoffs in the form of a hat trick. Every opponent has tried their best to neutralize the 21-year-old Canadian, but there is not much evidence it's possible.
The team captain has been an effective leader all season long and is the heartbeat of the most dominant team from the East. Like Russell-Rowe, Micaletto has already opened his MLS NEXT Pro playoff account and tends to be a goal threat that plays behind the forward line.
The 2022 MLS NEXT Pro Goalkeeper of the Year has stood sturdy all year and should be highly motivated to earn the most meaningful clean sheet of the season.
But CITY2 won’t go down without a fight.
The Western Conference champions are coming off a nail-biting finish to their 2-1 win over the Tacoma Defiance.
Goals in each half proved to be enough for CITY2 to advance, but the Defiance scored late in the second half to make the game suspenseful in the final minutes.
Eventually, though, CITY2 toughed out a strenuous result to win the game, showing the team can match Crew 2’s will to win.
With everything being said, expect goals, last-ditch defensive stands and late-game heroics. Both teams will battle to the bitter end, meaning no matter the score it’s not over until it’s over.
For more on CITY2's run to the MLS NEXT Pro Cup, a team profile is available here.
The 24-year-old Englishman led CITY2 with eight goals in the regular season and slotted in the game-winner over Tacoma Defiance last weekend.
Watts can do it all, even from the backline. His six-goal, seven-assist regular season showed his skill, versatility and vision – and he can not be ignored on or off the ball.
Hiebert, another MLS NEXT Pro Best XI selection, has been a no-nonsense center back that has paired well with Watts on the backline. In addition to shutting down incomers, his distribution has unlocked the quick counterattacks that make the right corner, perhaps, the most dangerous place to lose possession in.
The most crucial game of the season is finally here. Be sure to tune in this Saturday to catch the conclusion of the MLS NEXT Pro season with the MLS NEXT Pro Cup live on mlsnextpro.com