With a 4-0 first-leg win in Nicaragua last week, coach Caleb Porter made eight changes to the starting line-up before the home leg against Real Esteli Thursday night.
It took them a while to get going, and they did have some injuries to deal with on the night. Ultimately the Crew won 1-0 Thursday and advanced to the quarter-finals on a 5-0 aggregate. England-born Bradley Wright-Phillips scored in the 88th minute, his first goal for his new team.
In the quarter-finals, the 2020 MLS Cup champions will face Monterrey from Liga MX in Mexico. The five MLS teams in the CONCACAF Champions League all made it through to the last eight, where they will be joined by three sides from Mexico.
Columbus begins defense of their title on Sunday afternoon at home against Philadelphia Union, the 2020 Supporters' Shield winners. The Crew, able to rest most of their starters Thursday, are 5/6 while the Union are 3/1, and a draw is 5/2.
Vegas next up in MLS?
As season number 26 is about to start and with two expansion teams coming in the next two seasons, the league is still looking to add one more. The 30th team was supposed to be Sacramento, joining Charlotte FC and St. Louis City FC in the league by 2023.
However, Sacramento's funding fell through during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the league is exploring all options for the newest expansion team. Commissioner Don Garber was asked about the 30th team at his press conference this week to kick off the season.
He acknowledged the struggles with Sacramento's bid after the main investor Ron Burkle withdrew his support in February. The league is still letting the California capital explore other ownership options before picking a new city.
Garber mentioned San Diego, Las Vegas, and Phoenix as other western options if the Sacramento bid cannot be revived. San Diego has the backing of American soccer legend Landon Donovan while Las Vegas has always been a hotspot for professional sports teams.
In the last decade alone, Sin City has added an NFL team (Raiders), NHL team (Golden Knights), and WNBA team (Aces) to go with the UNLV Runnin' Rebels college teams.
The Golden Knights ownership group is driving the plan to bring MLS to the city, and sharing Allegiant Stadium with the Raiders is an option. Allegiant will host the 2021 Gold Cup final, and the city hosted the Leagues Cup final between MLS and Liga MX sides in September 2019.
Garber didn't announce a timetable for bringing in the 30th team. The league starts Friday with 27 franchises after pushing Charlotte's expansion back to 2022. St. Louis will join the league for the 2023 campaign after both expansion plans were delayed one year due to COVID.