COLUMBUS, Ohio – Though Andrés Mendoza is still getting used to his new Crew teammates and has tallied as many misses as shots on target, the Peruvian forward knows how to score.
Thanks to him, Columbus are on the verge of advancing to the knockout stages of the CONCACAF Champions League.
His goal in the 87th minute Tuesday was all the Crew (3-1) needed to beat Santos Laguna 1-0 to leap over the Mexican side into first place by two points in Group B with two games left.
RECAP: Crew edge past Santos in CCL
Head coach Robert Warzycha paired Mendoza, who made his Crew debut on Sept. 4 at D.C. United, with Emilio Renteria to spark the offense and provide more play inside the penalty area.
The verdict is still out because Rentería left the match at halftime with a groin strain. Still, the duo showed potential on a give-and-go that almost resulted in a score. Rentería received the ball from Mendoza on the left side of the box, but his touch failed as the goalkeeper came out to smother the shot.
“They connected pretty well,” Warzycha said. “They had some chances. That was a good combination between Emilio and Andrés. There was a good understanding. They keep the defense honest.”
Whether Warzycha uses the pair Saturday at New England could depend on Renteria’s health and if leading scorer Guillermo Barros Schelotto plays on the artificial turf.
With three more points secured in the Champions League, the prospect of needing Schelotto next Wednesday in Guatemala against Municipal lessens.
Backup forwards Jason Garey and Steven Lenhart also played big roles in the win against Santos.
Garey played the ball into Mendoza just before the winning strike and was running past him in anticipation of a return ball, but it deflected off a defender back to Mendoza for a shot from 23 yards.
Mendoza immediately left the game after the goal with leg cramps. Lenhart replaced him to do the dirty work in the corners.
“Stevie did a very good job of killing the time,” Warzycha said.
The Crew have allowed seven goals in their past two MLS games, but they yielded only two shots on goal Tuesday. A big part of that, however, was Santos helping the cause with their ball-possession game that looked to exploit cracks in the defense.
Columbus stayed patient and frustrated Santos in the final third.
“They understand each other and worked for each other,” Warzycha said of his defenders. “We played against a very good team, a team that likes to pass the ball and move with the ball.”
Santos had a non-threatening shot on goal in the first minute, a shot deflected wide in the third then went 50 minutes without an attempt. Andy Gruenebaum’s other save came in the 84th off a free kick of which he had a clear view.
The Crew advanced to the CCL quarterfinals last year with a 2-2-2 mark in the group stage, including 1-1-1 at home. Columbus have won all three home games this year by a combined 5-0 score.