Crew Cuts: Champions League Quarterfinals

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

The Crew is scheduled to play its first serious soccer of 2010 Tuesday against Mexican power Toluca in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. Columbus, the only MLS team to advance past the group stage of the international tournament last fall, will travel to Toluca to play the second leg March 17.

But the Crew, like the rest of the league's 16 teams, is training without a collective bargaining agreement. The old agreement expired Jan. 31; the players union and MLS twice extended it but have yet to reach a new deal. Thus, it's unclear whether Tuesday's match will actually happen.

"We are proceeding as though all systems are go," Crew spokesman Dave Stephany said Tuesday.

If the players strike, we'll have plenty of space to discuss the details in future issues. And my comrades at the Dispatch have more info on the negotiations at So I'm sticking with Stephany and moving forward, full steam ahead. Let's get previewin'!

With a Mexican club coming to Columbus during winter's waning days, my mind turns to the U.S. national team's two victories over Mexico in World Cup qualifiers at Crew Stadium. Specifically, I'm thinking of "La Guerra Fria" in 2001 and last year's frigid rematch.

The Mexican internationals didn't take kindly to the cold climes. So a recent photo of Crew Stadium covered in snow must be making Toluca players shiver, right? Perhaps, but Columbus captain Frankie Hejduk said Toluca's high-altitude stadium might be just as daunting for Columbus.

In fact, the deck seems stacked against Columbus. Hejduk and Guillermo Barros Schelotto recently learned they'll miss the first leg due to yellow card accumulation during the tournament's group stage. Furthermore, Toluca is in the midst of its season, while the Crew is still rounding into form.

"It's our first game of the season," Hejduk said. "There's always kinks in those games."

The last time the Crew faced an elite Mexican club, Cruz Azul demolished the Black and Gold 7-0 over two matches. Coach Robert Warzycha isn't about to wave a white flag at Toluca, but remarks like "We can learn a lot from them" suggest he knows what he's up against.

Though the Crew will need a gargantuan effort, any competitive match against a quality opponent has its benefits. This is the Crew's chance to find its footing before their MLS schedule starts March 27.

"We get two games before everyone else," Hejduk said. "If anything, we'll get some good fitness out of it."

What: Toluca vs. Columbus Crew

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 9

Where: Crew Stadium, North Side