Both sides had their chances to start the game, but the Crew took the lead in the 19th minute thanks to a goal from Gyasi Zardes. Esteli's Oscar Acevedo won the ball in the penalty area, but a heavy touch meant Zardes could regain possession for his side and score from close range.
From there, the 2020 MLS Cup champs were on a roll. They doubled the lead just six minutes later through a corner kick. Lucas Zelarayan swung the ball into the box, and though Jonathan Mensah could not get a clean touch on it, it he did enough to direct the ball into the back of the net.
Zardes secured his brace in the 33rd minute, giving his side a 3-0 lead. Luis Diaz received a cross from inside the penalty area, eventually sending it Zardes' way as he positioned himself smack in the center of the box. From there, it was an easy finish for the forward.
The Crew wrapped up the first half by earning a penalty after an Esteli player was called for a handball. Pedro Santos converted the penalty in stoppage time.
The second half proved to be a more even affair, and Esteli got the first meaningful chance on the other side of the break through a header from Juan Barrera that was eventually saved by Eloy Room. The Crew could have added to their lead with a shot from Zelarayan in the 68th minute that eventually hit the crossbar.
But ultimately the hard work had been done in the first half and the Crew were able to comfortably close out a victory that should make next Thursday's return leg in Columbus a mere formality.
- THE BIG PICTURE: The Crew got the job done in the first half, which afforded them some safety when Esteli had a better attacking performance in the second half. In a week of impressive performances by MLS clubs to start the 2021 Champions League, the Crew produced the most dominant result of all.
- MOMENT OF THE MATCH: The Crew began their onslaught when Zardes scored in the 19th minute, pouncing on Acevedo's heavy touch.
- MAN OF THE MATCH: Zardes kicked off the 2021 season in fine form, scoring twice and remaining an active part of the Crew's attack during his 67 minute shift.
- CLB: Thursday, April 15 vs. Real Esteli | 8 pm ET, FS1 & TUDN | Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 Leg 2