Columbus Crew SC is set to face Real Esteli FC in leg one of the 2021 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 on Thursday, April 8 at 8 p.m. ET (FS1, TUDN) from Estadio Nacional in Managua, Nicaragua.
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It will be the Crew's first-ever match versus Real Esteli FC, who defeated Honduran side FC Motagua in the play-in round of the 2020 Concacaf League to secure a berth in the Concacaf Champions League – the club’s seventh appearance in the tournament.
BRACKET | 2021 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League
In terms of experience, fifth-year veteran Pedro Santos is familiar with continental competitions after making 13 appearances in the UEFA Europa League for his former club, Braga, and will look to start 2021 where he left off after bagging eight goals and eights assists in 25 total appearances last season.
"For me, personally, it's a very important competition," said Santos, who went on to say that by winning this competition, it'll "bring us [as players] a lot of things, but for the Club also. ... For me, it's a pleasure to have the opportunity to play in that competition, and I will do everything for us to be the first MLS team to win this competition and have Columbus make history."
WATCH | Pedro Santos on what the Concacaf Champions League berth means to him
Thursday's match marks the Club's first Concacaf Champions League appearance since the 2010-11 tournament edition, and the first for Caleb Porter since he led the Portland Timbers during the 2016-17 edition.
Additionally, this week will mark the third career CCL appearance for Porter, who is 5-2-1 all-time in home-and-home series versus Concacaf opponents, and the second career CCL berth for President & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko, who in his previous role with Toronto FC, helped lead TFC to the CCL final in 2018.
While emphasizing that winning MLS Cup is the Club's main priority, Bezbatchenko spoke on the significance of the CCL berth and what the opportunity offers clubs and their fanbases.
"Through Champions League, we can really take the city global. Through the global sport of soccer, I think we can (create) a new lens for our fans in Columbus – and maybe some of our non-soccer fans in Columbus – to see what this international competition is all about, which is really neat because maybe they understand the World Cup, but maybe they haven't been privy to watching UEFA Champions League or Concacaf Champions League," Bezbatchenko said.
"So, we have a lot of new fans that have come on board since the championship and our new stadium, and we are excited to be able to introduce them to a different style of soccer, different cultures of soccer, and that's what this opportunity is, beyond the white lines."
WATCH | President, GM Tim Bezbatchenko on the significance of Concacaf Champions League to the Club, its supporters
Notably, defender Josh Williams made his debut for Crew SC during the Club's 2010-11 Champions League appearance, as he spoke about his recollections and what the younger players can take away from the opportunity.
WATCH | Defender Josh Williams on his first CCL experience, lessons learned
Leg two of the Round of 16 will take place on Thursday, April 15 at Historic Crew Stadium (1 Black & Gold Blvd) at 8 p.m. ET on FS1 and TUDN. A limited quantity of tickets are available for those wanting to attend the match.
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Should Crew SC advance past Real Esteli to the Quarterfinals of the tournament, it would face the winner of the Round of 16 matchup between CF Monterrey (Mexico) and Club Atletico Pantoja (Dominican Republic) across two legs.
Midfielder Lucas Zelarayan leads the Crew roster with 17 appearances in CCL matches, all logged during his tenure with Tigres UANL, where he played in three separate CCL finals. The 28-year-old Argentine spoke on his experience in the competition and how the team is looking ahead to its 2021 ambitions, including another run to MLS Cup.
WATCH | With 17 matches in CCL play, Lucas Zelarayan on the significance of this opportunity
Notably, the winner of the 2021 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League will secure a berth in the 2021 FIFA Club World Cup in Japan. The full list of 2021 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 fixtures can be viewed via Concacaf.com.