OBETZ, Ohio – Even though participation in the CONCACAF Champions League means at least of six additional six games to an already crowded MLS schedule, Crew goalkeeper William Hesmer said the extra effort is worth it.
It was announced Wednesday that the Crew will be grouped for the 2010-11 tournament with Municipal of Guatemala and the winners from two preliminary round series: Brujas (Costa Rica) vs. Joe Public (Trinidad) and San Juan Jabloteh (Trinidad) vs. Mexico’s Santos or Toluca.
The tournament is something Hesmer and his teammates place a high priority on. Very high, in fact.
“We were more orientated, I would say, toward the Supporters’ Shield, toward the CONCACAF than necessarily doing well in the MLS Cup,” he said. “That maybe took a little toll, not to say we didn’t go after MLS Cup with all we had—we did.
“We could have easily said there’s not as much money or prestige winning CONCACAF as there is for MLS Cup, so let’s throw our reserves in the CONCACAF games,” he said. “We didn’t do that. We went after that. We really wanted that.”
The draw for this year's Champions League has also given the Crew an opportunity to exact revenge on the team that knocked them out of last year's tournament.
The Crew lost the quarterfinal series to Toluca in March. After tying the Mexican side 2-2 in Crew Stadium, Toluca won 3-2 at home. A 3-3 draw would have sent the Crew to the semifinals.
The Crew advanced out of what was considered the toughest group last year by finishing second with a 2-2-2 record behind Cruz Azul of Mexico and ahead of Saprissa (Costa Rica) and the minor league Puerto Rico Islanders.
A highlight was becoming the first MLS team to win at Saprissa, but it took a late equalizing goal by newcomer Emilio Renteria in the final match at Puerto Rico to ensure the Crew’s spot in the quarterfinals.
The lowlights were losing 5-0 at Cruz Azul and 2-0 in the return leg.
“I think we learned we can play with pretty much any team in our region,” midfielder Eddie Gaven said. “We struggled against Cruz Azul the most. Other than we showed we can beat every single team. I think that’s going to give us a whole lot of confidence.”