They've done it! Crew 2 alums react to becoming MLS Cup champions

Schulte hero

COLUMBUS - The effects of Columbus Crew 2's inaugural MLS NEXT Pro campaign are still being felt nearly 500 days after its culmination.

With the help of several Crew 2 alumni throughout 2023, the Columbus Crew's 2-1 MLS Cup win over defending champion Los Angeles FC on Saturday marks the club as the first and only to hold both MLS NEXT Pro and MLS Cup titles, and accomplish it in the first year it was possible.

If you observed Crew 2's campaign last year, you probably sensed the stars of the 2022 Capybara cast were destined for great things. Their roles in the speedy, full-circle moment are among the most inspiring stories of MLS Cup 2023.

The Ohio capital has an uncanny way of serving as a rite of passage in North American soccer history. Fittingly, MLS NEXT Pro quickly fell in line with both of its championship games being played at Columbus' Field, the proving ground where some of Saturday's stars earned an important stripe just one year ago. was on site to capture the emotions of the historic moment.

Here's a glimpse of what it meant to those freshly minted kings of MLS in their own words:


Of the former Crew 2 contingent to make the jump to first-team life, none were more crucial to Crew's championship crusade than goalkeeper Patrick Schulte. In addition to the pro-pathway championship double, the 22-year-old etched his name in the MLS history book as the youngest-ever goalkeeper to start in and win the MLS Cup.

Schulte earned MLS NEXT Pro's Goalkeeper of the Year and Best XI honors in 2022 and has found a way to make 2023 even sweeter.

The Saint Charles, Missouri native won the starting job early in 2023 but looked like a seasoned veteran in the biggest game of his life to date.

"It’s been a crazy year. Definitely been a crazy past hour, 30 minutes, whatever it has been." He said in his postgame presser. "So, it hasn't really sunk in yet. But to feel the excitement and the joy of last year, winning the first-ever MLS NEXT Pro Cup, to live that moment and know what that feels like, there was nothing I wanted more than to do it tonight. It’s been a crazy rollercoaster over the last two years. But to call myself an MLS Cup champion after year two is truly something that I won't take for granted and I will definitely have this memory forever."


Marking your name as a champion in your home state always has an extra special shine to it. Few, if any, Crew players know the backroads of the Buckeye state like midfielder Sean Zawadzki does. He is the latest example of Columbus' pathway blueprint and living proof to all current academy players that their dreams are for the taking.

The 23-year-old from North Olmstead, Ohio spent years in the Columbus Academy making a daily two-hour commute to training. As an academy standout, he earned a homegrown contract in January 2022 and registered 21 starts in Crew 2's famous foray into MLS NEXT Pro.

With his appearance on Saturday, he's now helped deliver two championship titles to the organization he's dedicated so much of his life to.

"As a little kid, you dream of these moments. To be able to win last year's MLS NEXT Pro Cup, and this year, MLS Cup ... it's hard to put into words. I'm so happy to be a part of this team. We're one big family and that's something they've really stressed all year.

"This club has done so many different things the right way over so many different years."


Mohamed Farsi gained power in the first-team setup with each passing week this season. In that course, the 2022 Best XI selection ultimately topped seasoned veterans to become head coach Wilfried Nancy's first choice at the right-back position throughout the MLS Cup Playoffs.

He had a busy 86-minute shift on Saturday. The 23-year-old from Montreal, Quebec faced 10 duels and posted an 87% passing rate.

All around the Columbus locker room in Saturday's celebrations, "trust" was the sentiment you heard from each and every player and staff member, and was the first thing that came to mind when Farsi reflected on his rapid rise.

"They have trust in the young players," he said. "Everyone here is important and (for me) it's up to individual play. They have faith in me, and that's why every time I go on the pitch I try to bring 100 percent and bring that trust back."


And of course, 2022 MLS NEXT Pro MVP Jacen Russell-Rowe is one of those players who will forever be synonymous with the league.

His dominant 2022 season collected several individual accolades, and his 2023 reaped the rewards of multiple call-ups to the senior Canadian Men's National Team and his first four goals as a first-teamer in MLS play. Only knowing life as a winner in the Crew system has set the standard to maintain a championship-caliber mindset.

"After last year I thought about what's next, and that was to try to become an MLS champion this year," Russell-Rowe simply said.

Mission accomplished. The 21-year-old Toronto native wasn't called into action in Saturday's action as the late stage of the game called for defensive-minded changes.

While he may not have gotten a chance to make a mark in the final game of 2023, several big games are coming his way. Russell-Rowe is primed to grow into a vital piece of the Crew's first-team setup when they take on the daunting task of competing in MLS, Leagues Cup, U.S. Open Cup, Campeones Cup, and Concacaf Champions Cup all on the roadmap in 2024.

Safe to say, MLS Cup 2023 set the standard for optimal integration of MLS NEXT Pro's emergence in the North American soccer landscape. 

Be sure to check back soon for more stories from all of MLS NEXT Pro's influence on the 2023 MLS Cup presented by Audi.