'Cucho,' Russell-Rowe lead Columbus to first-leg victory over visiting Monterrey

MLS champs will take 2-1 lead into next week's return match against the Liga MX giants
Jacen Russell-Rowe (foreground) celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal for Columbus in the Crew's Concacaf Champions Cup semifinal match against Liga MX powerhouse Monterrey.
Jacen Russell-Rowe (foreground) celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal for Columbus in the Crew's Concacaf Champions Cup semifinal match against Liga MX powerhouse Monterrey. / Jason Mowry/GettyImages

Defending MLS champions Columbus Crew continued its march toward the Concacaf Champions Cup finals, handing unbeaten Monterrey a 2-1 loss in the first leg of their semifinal series.

“Cucho” Hernández and Jacen Russell-Rowe scored for the home team, bookending Maxi Meza’s minute 58 goal that had momentarily equalized the match.

After a sluggish start, the Crew stepped into the fray and more than held its own against the five-time Concacaf champs.

For its part, the Liga MX side squandered early scoring opportunities, then spent considerable time chasing yellow shirts around Historic Crew Stadium. The Rayados looked tired down the stretch, yet coach Fernando Ortiz used just three subs, perhaps saving some reserves for Sunday’s season finale at Necaxa.

Crew restores MLS pride

Fernando Ortiz’s men had been a perfect 6-0-0  in the CCC heading into Wednesday night’s match, outscoring their opponents 15-4.

It appeared as though that trend might continue as Crew goalie Patrick Schulte was under siege from the outset.

Just 6 minutes in, Rayados striker Brandon Vazquez was at the doorstep after a nifty feed from Luis Romo, but a splendid, sprawling save from Schulte denied Monterrey the fast start it desired.

Twice more in the next 6 minutes, “los regios” were in the Columbus box, but both moves were short-circuited by poor decisions (an ill-advised no-look pass by Vazquez and indecisiveness on the part of Jesús Gallardo).

And that, other than the 14 minutes during which the game was tied 1-1, was the high point for the Liga MX visitors.

Monterrey would end the game with just 46% possession and struggled to contain Columbus which completed 87% of its passes.

The Crew’s first counterpunch landed in minute 17 when the MLS hosts raced out of their own box, swinging the ball wide left to “Cucho” who danced around a defender before flicking a cross into the path of the onrushing Diego Rossi.

The pass was a bit out of reach and the sliding Rossi only managed to redirect it on the wrong side of the near post.

A few minutes later, Vazquez clanged the bottom of the left post after a bad Columbus turnover in its own defensive third. 

Shortly thereafter, the Crew broke through when “Cucho” and Jacen Russell-Rowe worked a pristine give-and-go that sprung “Cucho” free into the box and the Colombian striker beat Esteban Andrada with his trusty right boot.

In minute 59, 3 minutes after botching a run into the Columbus box, Gallardo raced down the left flank, nodded a bouncing ball forward, circled his marker and sent a perfect pass across the top of the 6-yard box to Meza all alone at the back post.

Monterrey had little time to enjoy its success. Less than a quarter-hour later, lax marking on a corner kick allowed Russell-Rowe to bounce a header past Andrada and put the Crew back up, 2-1.

By then, the Liga MX giants were tiring. It didn’t help that field general Sergio Canales had an off-game and Meza was virtually invisible before and after his goal. Gallardo was also wasteful with opportunities in the Crew half.

Casual passes led to Columbus counters and Andrada came up with two big saves to maintain a 1-goal deficit that keeps the Rayados in the series ahead of next week’s second leg back home in Monterrey.

In minute 89, Germán Berterame got behind the Columbus defense, but the unflappable Schulte snixed any idea the Liga MX club had of escaping with a draw.

Liga MX streak comes to end

The 2-1 victory was the first win for an MLS team against a Liga MX club in this year's Concacaf Champions Cup.

Liga MX teams had been 9-5-0 (with a 33-11 goal differential) coming into Wednesday's match, although Columbus knocked out Tigres – Monterrey's biggest Liga MX rival – in a quarterfinals penalty shoot-out after a pair of 1-1 draws.


Monterrey fell to an MLS team in a Concacaf tournament for the first time in four years. The Rayados lost 1-0 to Atlanta United on March 13, 2019, but that came in the second leg of a quarterfinal series in which Monterrey won the first leg 3-0. So the setback did not prevent the Rayados from advancing to the finals, eventually winning the tournament then known as the Concacaf Champions League.