COLUMBUS – Yes, the Crew have a plan to ensure advancement to the knockout stage of the CONCACAF Champions League. But Colonel George Custer had one, too, and Little Bighorn didn’t turn out so well for him.
The Crew are hoping for a better outcome, even though they dropped into the second and final qualifying spot in Group B following a 2-1 loss Wednesday in Guatemala while Santos Laguna spanked Joe Public of Trinidad, 5-1.
Santos have 10 points, one better than the Crew, who are one up on Municipal. Joe Public have been eliminated with one point.
Why the optimism for the Crew heading into the final match?
Because Municipal have to play at Santos. Santos haven’t lost in league play or in the Champions League this season, and the Crew are at Joe Public.
The Santos match on Oct. 19 comes two days before the Crew’s game in Trinidad, so the team will leave Columbus knowing exactly what is at stake. A Santos win would qualify the Crew and Columbus coach Robert Warzycha expects the Mexican side to employ a strong team.
“They can’t afford to lose, so they’re going to try to win it,” Warzycha said.
If Santos send the Crew through, Warzycha will field mostly reserves, as he did at Municipal. That’s the best scenario for the Crew, who finish the MLS regular season on Oct. 24 against the Philadelphia Union.
“We’re going to see what happens before we decide who to take,” Warzycha said.
If the Crew and Municipal finish tied for second, the Crew currently hold the goal differential tiebreaker: +3 compared to Municipal’s +1. As far as defender Andy Iro is concerned, that means that the Crew have their fate in their own hands.
“We did what we needed to do at home so now we’ll go down to Joe Public and do what we have to do there,” Iro said.
Drop the Gloves
Crew forward Jason Garey sounded like his hockey brethren in Columbus, the NHL’s Blue Jackets, when discussing the shenanigans that occurred in the game and the near-brawl with Municipal at the conclusion of the match.
“You’re not going to back down from those guys,” he said. “We’re there together as a team. I’m fine with it. The coaches are fine with it. If it were one guy surrounded by their entire team it would be a problem.
“It was getting ridiculous at the end,” he added. “What are you going to do? They’re at home, falling down all over the place trying to waste time. Their coaches are yelling at our players.”
Maybe it was the heavy rains that put the field under water, but Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum thought he saw a lot of aquatic maneuvers from Municipal.
“They were diving out there. It was like watching Greg Louganis,” he said. “Honestly, if we play that team on a neutral field where conditions are right we win that game nine out of 10 times.”