COLUMBUS, Ohio – Head coach Robert Warzycha said after Tuesday’s 3-0 win against Joe Public in the CONCACAF Champions League that the Columbus Crew “took a step forward” in qualifying for the quarterfinals.
That’s good news after the team went backward in the MLS race for the Supporters’ Shield over the weekend. A 3-1 loss to Los Angeles dropped the Crew three points behind the Galaxy, and left them tied with Real Salt Lake at 44 points with FC Dallas (41) and New York (40) lurking.
The victory over the Trinidadian side gave the Crew a 2-1-0 record midway through the Group B stage and pulled Columbus to within a point of leader Santos Laguna (2-0-1). The top two teams advance to the CCL quarterfinals.
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A win over visiting Santos on Sept. 21 would likely allow the Crew to rest most of their regulars for trips to Municipal on Sept. 29 and Joe Public on Oct. 21.
“That would be nice,” forward Jason Garey said. “The sooner you can wrap up a group the better, because we have so many games coming up.”
Warzycha is cognizant that the Crew faded down the stretch in 2009 as the schedule took its toll.
“We learned from last year having so many games at the end of the season how we are approaching the games,” he said.
At least the extra games from the Champions League have enabled Warzycha to review his squad.
Several left their mark against the undermanned Joe Public. French left midfielder Leandre Griffit scored and played well enough to earn consideration for more MLS time. On the opposite wing, Emmanuel Ekpo showed he’s recovered from a groin injury and is a candidate to start Saturday against Seattle Sounders FC.
Even late substitute rookie midfielder Dilly Duka assisted on Steven Lenhart’s goal for the final margin.
“When you come when the game’s like that it’s fun,” Duka said. “You just knock it around; get some touches maybe some fitness.”
Stern John was in Crew Stadium on Tuesday to see his former club defeat one from his native Trinidad. John, who will be 34 in October, is in Columbus rehabbing after surgery on his left knee in July and hopes to be full go by January.
“I’m here for about five months in the offseason,” he said. “I have family and friends here from back in the day. I’m relaxing and enjoying the games.”
He had 52 goals in 65 regular season and playoff games for the Crew in 1998-99 before heading to England. His contract was not renewed by Crystal Palace this season.
Asked if he would like to don a Crew uniform again he said, “Hopefully, one day. Definitely. I’d love to.”