With the pride of the MLS on their backs, the Columbus Crew wanted to start their CONCACAF Champions League campaign off with a bang and secure an early lead in Group C. The Puerto Rico Islanders, who compete in the USL First Division, were simply trying to prove that their improbable semifinal run last year was not a fluke.
Columbus set the tone by dominating possession and generating scoring chances throughout the opening act.
Things got started in the 13th minute when Jed Zayner sent in a long cross into the box to Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who then neatly headed the ball down for Alejandro Moreno. Though right in front of the goal, Moreno could not play the ball perfectly and his try went wide.
Then, in the 23rd minute, Emmanuel Eckpo sent in a fine cross to Moreno, but the Venezuelan international would head the ball off target.
At the same time, Puerto Rico was showing a lack of discipline on the field as they garnered three yellow cards in a span of only 11 minutes. The most notable offense came in the 29th minute when ex-Crew goalkeeper Bill Gaudette thought that Schelotto had purposefully kicked him while attacking the net. Gaudette received a yellow for time-wasting, much to the delight of the Crew supporters.
In the 34th, Rogers would make his presence felt when he went on a flashy run down the left side. Unfortunately, his shot would go almost a goal’s length wide.
The Islanders would have one chance during the half, yet it came on an interesting play. Head referee Roberto Moreno accidently interfered with a Crew counter attack and the ball went right back to Puerto Rico. Nonetheless, the Islanders would do nothing with their gift.
Gaudette would make two great saves - both in the 37th minute, ensuring that his side would not go down early. First, Eckpo sent in a screamer which forced Gaudette to make a diving save. After the ensuing corner, Moreno was open in front, but Gaudette would push his shot over the net.
The half would end with a score of 0-0, despite the Crew’s multitude of quality chances.
Whereas Columbus created numerous chances with no results in the first half, the exact opposite would prove true in the second as they would finally break the tie despite few opportunities.
Rogers almost ended the stalemate minutes in when he had another impressive run, yet his hard shot would once again go far wide. Moments later, Rogers set up Danny O’Rourke in the box, but his header would go too high.
Puerto Rico finally started to show better ball control and appeared as though they would be able to find the back of the net. Unfortunately for last year’s Cinderella, that would not be the case.
Columbus would score at last in the 58th minute. After a Schelotto set-piece from 30 yards out, the ball bounced around the box until Chad Marshall obtained possession and set up recently subbed-in Steven Lenhart. Though he could have challenged Gaudette for a goal of his own, Marshall made the right choice, opting for the sure thing.
Though the Islanders would not give in and still showed signs of life, Columbus proved too powerful for the USL side. The Crew almost scored their second goal in the 78th minute after a great exchange between Eddie Gaven and Lenhart inside the box. Lenhart set up Gaven, but his shot was too soft and proved to be an easy save for Gaudette.
Columbus would double their lead less than a minute later, however, when Rogers converted on another loose ball in the area. Originally sent in by Gaven,
the ball would deflect off of Moreno right to the foot of Rogers.
Rogers easily tapped it in and got a well-deserved goal after a hard
Puerto Rico could not counter and lost 2-0 to the Crew.
With tonight’s victory, Columbus sits atop their group with three points. Their next match is in almost one month when they take on Saprissa in San Jose, Costa Rica.
In spite of tonight’s loss, Puerto Rico still has every chance to get right back in the mix when they play Saprissa next week at home in Bayamon.
Greg Adrouny, Goal.com