Columbus Crew captain Jonathan Mensah expects clubs in the MajorÂ League Soccer (MLS) to mount a strong challenge in the 2021 season.
The Ghanaian defender has urged his outfit to brace themselves for the tests they will face when 2021 MLS kicks off on Sunday.
Four months after winning the MLS Cup, the Black and Yellow are set to begin their title defence with a home encounter against Philadelphia Union at Historic Crew Stadium.
December's success was Crew's second time winning the championship.
â€œI think teams will come at us really, really strong,â€ Mensah said ahead of the upcoming opener, Dispatch reported.
â€œWe need to prepare for the best but expect the worst because teams will come at us really, really strong because people didn't really know what we could do.
"We need to be strong mentally, physically and tactically.â€
Last season was certainly special for Mensah, considering the cup success came in his first year as captain of the club.
"When such an honour and responsibility arises, I think you don't need to hesitate. You just need to take the challenge and lead the team,â€ the 30-year-old continued.
â€œIt was a responsibility that I needed a lot of support, and I actually got it from my teammates and my coaches and everyone around the team because I didn't do it alone.
â€œI don't know how I did that last year,â€ Mensah said. â€œIt was one of the toughest years of my playing career, and I'll thank my wife also for holding it down back in Ghana because it wasn't easy."
Mensah is in his fourth year with Crew, having joined the club in 2017 after leaving Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala.