Crew coach Robert Warzycha has one regret coming out of Wednesday night’s quarterfinal capper in the CONCACAF Champions League against Toluca. Make that two, considering his side didn’t advance.
What he really wanted to see what an in-season Crew could do against the favored Mexican team deep into its schedule.
“It would be nice to play Toluca when we are in the best form, maybe if we had 10 games like they had,” he said. “It would give us a better chance to win.”
The Crew nearly pulled out the series anyway, dropping a 3-2 decision in Estadio Nemesio Díez on Wednesday after the teams settled on a 2-2 in Columbus eight days earlier. Knowing they needed a win or at least a 3-3 tie to advance, the Crew looked anything like a team trying for the advantage in the early going.
With the home crowd and the oxygen-sucking altitude in its corner, the Crew were left to rope-a-dope through much of the first half until they literally got a second wind right before the break. Toluca had two shots go off the crossbar, but Warzycha was unfazed even while his players scrambled.
“They were good shots,” he said. “Overall, they were shots from distance so I wasn’t too worried about them. They didn’t have a clear chance to score a goal. They never got behind us. We limited their opportunities. They had some set pieces when they put some shots on net but nothing was close to the goal.”
The Crew got the break they needed when Toluca defender Edgar Dueñas was called for a handball off a Guillermo Barros Schelotto pass attempt to Eddie Gaven in stoppage time. Schelotto nailed the penalty for a 1-0 lead.
Not only was it the correct call but the Crew earned it in every way. Columbus was the aggressor the last five minutes of the half and finally started playing the possession game that was so successful the past two Major League Soccer seasons.
Instead of whipping the ball downfield and hoping Steven Lenhart would be on the end of the service or letting Robbie Rogers chase, the Crew found the schism in the defense and patiently worked the final third.
“We finished the half the way we wanted,” Warzycha said. “We figured 0-0 would be good but to end the half 1-0 up was even better.”
Toluca was all over the Crew after the break and clinical passes and runs had the Crew backpedaling. Eventually, Gaven committed a foul in the box and Héctor Mancilla converted for the equalizer.
Brazilian standout Sinha then ripped the first of two free kicks that would be the difference. In between, Schelotto scored his second of the match to give the Crew a 2-2 tie in the 70th minute -- a deadlock that would last only two minutes until Sinha struck from 23 yards with a strike that had goalkeeper William Hesmer mesmerized.
“It was a good spot on the field,” Warzycha said. “The first time he put it under the net. The second one he froze Will. The game didn’t slip away because of this. It slipped away because of the red card at the end of the game. We let things happen that you can’t have in a game like this.”
Steven Lenhart was sent off in the 80th minute for an incident off the ball, continuing a trend of reckless behavior that will only increase the scrutiny on him once the MLS season starts.
Despite the loss, Warzycha admitted the Crew earned a bit of confidence heading into the season opener on March 27 against Toronto.
“The players found out they can play against a Mexican team and score goals,” Warzycha said. “The way we’re playing is good. It was our second game after a short preseason [eight games], so that’s good. It’s very encouraging. We got some good competition, better than we’ve ever had before. It’s given us a good measurement of where we are. The guys can go into the regular season knowing they are fit.”