Last night, the Columbus Crew hosted its first-ever CONCACAF Champions League match, taking on the Puerto Rico Islanders. It was the first meaningful international match the Crew has played since 2003.
The Islanders came in and immediately bunkered, hoping to take a tie and a point back to the island for the second leg of this home-and-home, total-goals series. But the Crew showed how massive it is and played through the defense—taking shots, pressuring, and waiting for the Islanders to get tired or make a mistake.
It took 58 minutes of grueling—and sometimes violent—soccer, but the goal finally came. Steven Lenhart took a crisp pass from Chad Marshall and buried it in the net, giving the Crew a solid 1-0 lead.
Twenty minutes later, Robbie Rogers doubled the Columbus advantage, gathering a loose ball in front of the net and poking it home. The game was as good as over at that point, but the Crew continued to press and nearly scored a few more times, while Puerto Rico kept right on bunkering.
To his credit, Islanders goalkeeper Bill Gaudette endured the Crew onslaught better than most thought he would. The Crew took shot after shot, 15 in all, and the former Crew netminder saved all but two. Gaudette was also treated to his fair share of heckling from a raucous Nordecke—who chanted "Columbus reject" and "dig it out Billy" more than once.
The Nordecke, the infamous section of Crew stadium that is home to the Crew's three largest supporters groups, treated the 6,000 in attendance to a pregame serenade when it sang the Star Spangled Banner before kickoff. It was completely spontaneous, and a little muddled at first, but we sounded good after everyone realized what was going on.
It was a quality win for the Crew, who with the victory took the lead in the so-called "group of death" and need to win as many home game as possible to advance in this tournament.
We can all agree that, as an organization, Columbus is taking the Champions League very seriously.