The Crew clinched a quarterfinal berth in the CONCACAF Champions League for a second straight year on Tuesday without even playing.
Not long after the team arrived in Trinidad and Tobago for Thursday’s match against Joe Public, the players and coaches learned that Santos Laguna of Mexico had defeated visiting Municipal (Guatemala) 6-1.
Santos (4-1-1) won Group B with 13 points while the Crew (3-2, 9 points) earned the second and final qualifying spot because Municipal (2-2-2) finished with eight. Joe Public has one tie heading into Thursday’s meaningless match.
“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.
The Crew lost in the quarterfinals of 2010-11 tournament in March to Mexico’s Toluca, tying 2-2 in Crew Stadium before losing 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 its opponent through a draw Nov. 1.
Almost all of the Crew starters are in Trinidad because the fear was that Municipal might pull an upset and force the Crew to play for points Thursday.
Santos, whose only loss was 1-0 to the Crew on Sept. 21, convincingly alleviated those fear.
“It’s a great accomplishment to go through,” Crew 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.”
Warzycha said some players may be sent home as early as Wednesday to rest for Sunday’s MLS regular-season finale vs. Philadelphia.