After a rough patch this season, the Columbus Crew were looking for redemption. On Tuesday, redemption took the form of a guaranteed quarterfinal berth in the CONCACAF Champions League. And that was before they even took the field.
Not long after the team arrived in Trinidad for Thursday’s match against Joe Public, the players and coaches learned that Mexican side Santos Laguna had thrashed visiting Guatemalan club Municipal 6-1.
By virtue of that victory, Santos (4-1-1) clinched top spot in CCL Group B with 13 points, while Municipal (2-2-2) finished with eight and failed to overtake the second-place Crew (3-0-2), who had been sitting on nine points. Joe Public have just one point.
“It’s a huge honor to play with the best teams in your region and show you’re right up there with them,” Crew midfielder Eddie Gaven said over the phone on Tuesday from Trinidad.
The Crew were eliminated in the quarterfinals of last year’s CCL, tying 2-2 with Mexican side Toluca before falling 3-2 in the away leg.
“The team did a great job in last year’s tournament in making it to the quarterfinals,” Gaven said. “We were a bit unlucky in not making it to through to the semifinals. It would mean a whole lot to this team to have the chance to do that again next year.”
Columbus will host the first leg Feb. 22, 23 or 24 with the second of the aggregate-goals series on the road March 1-3. The Crew will learn their opponent through a draw on Nov. 1.
Almost all of Columbus’ starters are in Trinidad, as a Municipal win would have meant the Crew needed to play for points against Joe Public.
It turned out to be an unnecessary precaution, as Santos convincingly took the Group B title. The Crew handed Santos their only loss of CCL play, a 1-0 decision on Sept. 21.
“It’s a great accomplishment to go through,” Crew head coach Robert Warzycha said. “It’s not an easy accomplishment playing the champions from other leagues with different styles and different mentalities. It’s something we can learn from.”
He said some players may be sent home as early as Wednesday to rest for Sunday’s MLS regular-season finale vs. Philadelphia.
Warzycha only took 15 players to Guatemala for their last CCL away game against Municipal.