As part of our countdown to MLS opening weekend, we're taking a look at each Week 1 match. On Wednesday, we break down the storylines around the Columbus Crew SC-New York Red Bulls match on March 2 (4:30 pm ET | ESPN+).
A lot has changed in Ohio since the New York Red Bulls eliminated Columbus Crew SC from the MLS Cup playoffs in November.
The Crew have new ownership and a new downtown stadium planned; They have a new roster architect, with Tim Bezbatchenko appointed club president after a hugely successful stint in charge of Toronto FC; They have a new head coach, with Caleb Porter taking over for Gregg Berhalter.
Meanwhile, the Red Bulls have largely returned the same core that set a new single-season league record for points en route to another Supporters' Shield triumph, sans Tyler Adams. More on that in a second.
Here are three things to watch as the Crew host the Red Bulls:
Cristian Casseres Jr. and replacing Tyler Adams
Cristian Casseres Jr. making his MLS debut in August | USA Today Sports
Adams was one of the league's top defensive midfielders last season despite still being a teenager. His exponential rise from excelling in USL with New York Red Bulls II to the first team was seamless, as is his transition to the Bundesliga.
Adams set the path that Cristian Casseres Jr. looks set to endeavor. Expectations may be a bit unfairly elevated for Casseres Jr., though the Venezuelan youth international has the skill to match the hype. He made one MLS start in 2018, impressing in a largely rotated Red Bulls lineup against the Houston Dynamo.
If Casseres Jr. doesn't get the opening day nod, Marc Rzatkowski would be likely to partner Sean Davis at the base of the Red Bulls midfield. That is, unless Chris Armas opts for a heavily rotated roster if Concacaf Champions League is still in play.
Caleb Porter's Crew
Bobby Warshaw wrote at length on this topic, detailing the beautiful soccer Porter's University of Akron juggernaut played during his time on the sidelines. What style will Columbus look to play at the beginning of the season in Porter's MLS return?
Crew captain Wil Trapp, who starred at Akron under Porter for two seasons, told MLSsoccer.com this week that the Crew will do a bit of both possession and pragmatism.
“He certainly looked at the qualities of the group and what will be the best predisposition for this team," Trapp said. "Blending his style from Portland, the high pressure and aggressive mentality, with what we’ve done well for the past years with possession and buildup. It’s more of a total perspective."
What will it look like against the Red Bulls?
The brilliance of Pipa Higuain and Bradley Wright-Phillips
One day, Federico Higuain and Bradley Wright-Phillips will retire and we'll all be worse off for it. Until then, continue to savor two dudes kicking it at the top of their games for a while longer.
Father Time is undefeated, as the ol' cliche goes. Higuain (34) and BWP (turning 34 in March) are undoubtedly on the back nine of their storied professional careers, but neither showed much wear and tear in 2018. The Crew's creative No. 10 had six goals and nine assists in 30 matches while RBNY's No. 99 had 20 goals and eight assists, the latter a career-high.
Neither player has relied heavily on athleticism throughout their MLS careers, which makes their virtuosity that much more subtly satisfying.