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Columbus Crew leads 2-1 against Monterrey in Concacaf Champions Cup semifinal

The Columbus Crew leads Mexican powerhouse Monterrey 2-1 on aggregate in the Concacaf Champions Cup semifinals after Wednesday’s opening match of the home-and-away series on aggregate.

Crew forward Cucho Hernandez scored in the first half in the Ohio capital, only to Los Rayados veteran Maximiliano Meza equalize halfway through the second. But the Crew got another one from Canadian national team forward Jacen Russell-Rowe with 18 minutes left in regulation, and they made the goal the game-winner.

The decisive rematch between the two teams will be played south of the border next week. The winner of the series will face either Club América or fellow Liga MX side Pachuca – who drew 1-1 after Tuesday’s opener in Mexico City – in the June 2 final at the home of the remaining top seed.

Here are some quick thoughts after Wednesday’s stalemate in Columbus.

Game of the game

The slick passing crew enjoyed most of the possession all night, and they used it to good effect on Cucho’s strike. Hernandez began the sequence with a clever back-and-forth with Russell-Rowe, who controlled the ball then sent a brilliant return pass to the Colombian international. Hernandez opened up Monterrey goalkeeper Esteban Andrada with a deft touch to his right before deftly sliding the finish across his body and into the opposite corner of the just-vacated net.

Turning point

Columbus could have folded when Meza erased its early and well-deserved lead. The visitors had all the momentum after a lightning-fast counterattack ended with an unmarked Meza slotting the equalizer past Crew goalkeeper Patrick Schulte at the far post:

Instead, the hosts’ resolve seemed to deepen, even if the results were not immediate. Russell-Rowe’s goal came about 15 minutes later.

Key statistic

The numbers don’t lie: the Crew were the better team by almost every available metric, including shots, shots on goal, passing, passing accuracy and possession. But the one-goal advantage is the only thing that matters ahead of next week’s second leg, even though they did concede a potentially decisive away goal.

Columbus outlasted the Tigres in the final round despite not winning the first leg, becoming the only MLS team to win a shootout in Mexico along the way. Now any tie other than a scoreless tie would be enough for them to move on. Team coach Wilfried Nancy & Co. will happily accept this agreement.

What’s next for Columbus?

Nancy will welcome her former club, CF Montreal, to the Lower.com field in MLS on Saturday. Columbus, which trails Eastern Conference leader Inter Miami by four points, is three points ahead of the Canadian club after nine league matches played in 2024.

What’s next for Monterrey?

Los Rayadosfourth in Liga MX Clause standings, travel to Necaxa on Sunday for a championship match against the eighth-ranked team in Liga MX, which tests Monterrey by a single point after 16 rounds of play.

Don’t expect that to stop coach Fernando Ortiz from resting most of his preferred 11 starters to ensure they are ready for the all-important Champions Cup rematch next Wednesday at the BBVA Stadium. Last weekend, Ortiz dismissed five starters in an eventual 2-0 defeat at Club León.

Doug McIntyre is a football writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was an editor at ESPN and Yahoo Sports and covered UNITED STATES men’s and women’s national teams at several FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

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