Columbus Crew defender Darlington Nagbe has discussed the competition between Liga MX and MLS ahead of the team’s Campeones Cup final against Cruz Azul on Wednesday, claiming the American league has made “huge strides”.
The 31-year-old veteran has experience in this tournament, defeating Club America in 2019 with Atlanta United to become the first Major League Soccer team to lift the trophy. Now, he wants to do it all again with the Crew.
"Obviously a lot to play for, a trophy. Winning that trophy with Atlanta meant a lot, not just to me, but to the team, especially being the first MLS team to win it after all these years playing against top Mexican opponents."
Beyond silverware, Nagbe admitted the winner of the tournament earns bragging rights in the Liga MX vs. MLS narrative.
“I feel like there's always a secret competition between Liga MX and MLS in terms of which league is better," he said.
"But I feel like MLS has made huge strides in terms of the players that they've signed, we've signed here as a club, wanting to push and be the best that we can be. So I think [it brings] a little bit of bragging rights and just two good teams on show."
Crew president and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko echoed the defender’s statements, adding that winning the Campeones Cup would establish the team as a big club.
"It would mean a lot, it would mean a ton," Bezbatchenko told Crew TV analyst Jordan Angeli.
"I think since the day we got here, Caleb [Porter], myself and ownership have said we want to be a consistent contender for trophies.
"Campeones Cup is unique because it's a continental tournament and one of our other goals aside from just being a contender is to actually bring Columbus to the world and one way we can do that is by competing internationally, in Champions League, in Campeones Cup, maybe in the Club World Cup someday, so that's what it means to us, is to be one of the few clubs that's ever done it."
The Crew sit in 10th place of the Eastern Conference table with 31 points in 26 games, narrowly missing out on a 2021 playoff position.