Major League Soccer’s regular season has not yet begun, but the Columbus Crew is already in pursuit of its first trophy of the year.
A CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal match against Real Salt Lake on Tuesday night didn’t yield a win for Columbus. The Crew remains in the hunt to advance to the tournament’s semifinal round after a 0-0 tie at an icy Crew Stadium.
Despite making noticeable personnel changes in the offseason, Columbus dispelled any concern about its cohesiveness with a heavy dose of offensive pressure that was maintained throughout the contest.
The Crew took its best shot of the first half just moments after the opening tap. Forward Andrews Mendoza’s head connected with defender Sebastián Miranda’s cross and sailed just above Salt Lake goalie Nick Rimando’s goal.
The Crew continued to fire on the Real Salt Lake goal throughout the game, taking 14 shots total, while forcing four saves from Rimando. Columbus coach Robert Warzycha said the condition of Crew Stadium’s field, spotted with ice patches, did not affect his team’s game plan.
“There wasn’t too many bad passes,” Warzycha said. “(The weather) was not ideal.”
Columbus’ defense stood tall to Real Salt Lake’s formidable attack. Led by 2010 MLS All-Star midfielders Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales, the Salt Lake attack did not register a single shot on goal during the entire game.
Former Ohio State goalkeeper Ray Burse played the full 90 minutes for Columbus. Despite Burse not facing a single shot, Warzycha said he was pleased with him.
“I think he did well,” Warzycha said. “He didn’t have to do anything but he looked good.”
An uneventful second half turned positive for Columbus in the 53rd minute when Real Salt Lake defender Tony Beltran was assessed a second yellow card for an illegal cleated tackle on Crew midfielder Eddie Gaven. Beltran was dismissed from the contest and will also miss the second-leg match in Salt Lake City on March 1.
In the 72nd minute, Crew forward Emilio Renteria collapsed to the ground as Salt Lake defender Nat Borchers stood over him. Both players were issued red cards and will also miss the second-leg match in Utah. Borchers and Renteria addressed the incident after the game.
“I think it was very unfair judgment against me,” Borchers said. “I’m disappointed.”
Borchers moved his elbow back and forth while describing the incident with Renteria.
“Elbow up, around the neck,” Borchers said. “Had I not backed off (Renteria), I might not be speaking to you tonight.”
Renteria had a different take on how the exchange unfolded.
“Every time I was looking for the ball, he would hit me,” Renteria said through an interpreter. “But I’m not one to hit defenders.”
Columbus controlled play into stoppage time, but could not take advantage of the 10-on-nine advantage. The game ended in a 0-0 tie as the two teams head to Salt Lake City for a decisive second-leg match at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.
After the game, Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis said he was pleased with the result of the game but annoyed with the icy field.
“It was difficult circumstances to play a soccer match in,” he said. “It was more of a battle than a soccer game. I was told the field would be covered.”
Should similar weather circumstances arise in Sandy for the second game of the quarterfinal series, Kreis promised that field conditions would not factor into the match.
“It wasn’t a good game to watch,” Kreis said. “Our field will be covered. Not sure why this field wasn’t.”
The March 1 kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. MST.