10/20/2009– BAYAMON, Puerto Rico – The Columbus Crew became the first team from U.S. Major League Soccer to reach the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League, getting a 74th-minute goal by second-half substitute Emilio Renteria to earn a 1-1 draw with the Puerto Rico Islanders on Tuesday.
The draw gave Columbus eight points in Group C, three better than Costa Rica’s Saprissa, which played Cruz Azul later Tuesday. But the Crew beat Saprissa in Costa Rica and drew with it at home to advance on head-to-head results.
Renteria, who entered the game two minutes earlier for Emmanuel Ekpo, capitalized on the work of Steven Lenhart, who replaced Frankie Hejduk in the 61st minute. Lenhart won a ball outside the area and closed on Puerto Rico goalkeeper Justin Myers, who raced off his line to give the Columbus forward a smaller target.
Myers blocked Lenhart’s initial shot, but the rebound bounced back to Renteria, who shot over the out-of-position keeper.
The Islanders, who advanced to the semifinals of last season’s inaugural competition, finished this year’s tournament without a win in the Group Stage and only two points. Tuesday’s match was their first since October 4 against Montreal, a 2-1 loss that eliminated it from the United Soccer League First Division playoff semifinals.
Neither side looked particularly dangerous in the first half, but and Puerto Rico took the lead on a seemingly innocuous play.
Noah Delgado headed a wayward ball back toward goal and teammate Cristian Arrieta attempted a twisting side volley at the edge of the six-yard box. But Arrieta missed, and the ball bounced in front of goalkeeper Will Hesmer, who appeared to be bracing for Arrieta’s shot but instead let the ball go underneath and between his legs.
Knowing a draw would clinch a place in the quarterfinals, Columbus manager Robert Warzycha inserted Adam Moffat for Kevin Burns to start the second half. Moffat had two chances in the first two minutes, a shot from distance high and a soft header into Myers hands, and Brian Carroll also went just wide from distance in the third minute.
Columbus, the defending MLS champion which has the best record in this year’s U.S. league play, joined Mexican sides Pumas, Pachuca, Cruz Azul and Toluca in the knockout round and will learn its quarterfinal opponent in the November 17 draw at CONCACAF’s New York headquarters.