COLUMBUS -- The G-Men are back and the result was a "W" for the Columbus Crew in the opening match of the CONCACAF Champions League on Wednesday.
Reserve goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum made three saves, including an early one on former Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Guillermo “Pando” Ramirez, an Eddie Gaven returned to stabilize the midfield as the Crew defeated Municipal of Guatemala 1-0.
Gruenebaum had not appeared in an MLS game since June 20, 2009, and underwent surgery on his right hip 11 months ago. He played two U.S. Open Cup matches this year, with the last being a shutout of the Charleston Battery on July 6.
He was tested from the onset with a kick save of Ramirez in the 10th minute and the Crew got on the board four minutes later on a brilliant run and shot by Emmanuel Ekpo.
“He made a big save. It was huge,” Crew coach Robert Warzycha said. “You want your goalkeeper to make the first save and he did that.”
Gruenebaum also made a diving stop of a Ramirez free kick in the 48th minute and finished with three saves.
“I’ve been getting some swag back in practice,” Gruenebaum said. “It’s taken me awhile to get back from this hip. I’ve been training for awhile but lately I’ve been coming into my own and feel like I’m back, really back, and not just there.
“I feel confident and if they ever throw me in there I’ll be ready,” he added. “I’ve been feeling it in training but even though I haven’t played in a lot of games I knew it would translate. Now that I’m back, I want them to start thinking (of me) and push Will (Hesmer).”
Warzycha was also happy to see the return of Gaven after missing two games because of a concussion. The Crew looked sloppy and disorganized in a 2-0 loss Saturday at Real Salt Lake with five starters, including Gaven, out.
Although Gaven did not figure in the scoring his presence was felt.
“Eddie is a very good player” Warzycha said. “It’s nice to have him on the field. He keeps the ball. He works so hard for 90 minutes. I’m glad he came back from the injury so quick.”
So is Gaven, “It felt good. The team played really, really well and worked really hard.”
As expected, the game was a tough, physical battle. The Crew advanced to the quarterfinals out of last year’s group and was not surprised this time around.
“We learned that there are not going to be any easy games,” Gaven said. “We have to make sure we come out and work hard pretty much for every single game. It was good to come out and do that for the first game tonight and get this thing off on the right foot.”
The right foot of Ekpo provided the winner, his first score in any competition since May 9, 2009, in a league game vs. Kansas City.
“It feels really good to be on the scoring chart again,” he said. “Hopefully, it continues this way. It’s not easy. I have to put in a little more effort and the goals will keep coming.”
He dribbled through and around three players before banking a shot off the left post.
“I had a couple of chances like that before and decided to give a square pass,” he said. “This time I decided to go one-on-one. It worked out for me.”
The Crew could not extend the lead because of six saves by Jaime Penedo.
“My goalkeeper was very good tonight,” Municipal coach Guilherme Farinha said.
The tournament is the club championship for North and Central America and the Caribbean region. The 16-team, round-robin group stage consists of four clusters with the top two teams from each advancing to the quarterfinals in March.
In round 2 play, Columbus is at Santos Laguna of Mexico on Tuesday while Municipal hosts Joe Public of Trinidad and Tobago on Aug. 26.
“(Santos) is a very tough place to play,” Warzycha said. “They are a very good team. It will be a good test.”