Soccer  > General Soccer  > Columbus looks to at least repeat QF appearance
August 17, 2010, 02:54 PM
A year ago, the Columbus Crew was the only Major League Soccer team to advance into the CONCACAF Champions League knockout stage. To repeat, they'll have contend with Mexico's Santos Laguna, Municipal from Guatemala and Trinidad & Tobago's Joe Public in Group B.

Columbus, which won the MLS Cup in 2008, is one of Major League Soccer's most consistent teams. It qualified for this year's Champions League by winning the Supporters' Shield, given to the league's top finisher in the regular season.

It's more of the same for the Crew this year as Columbus has been atop the Eastern Conference since April. It sits six points ahead of the New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference and is contention against for this year's Supporters' Shield.

Argentine veteran Guillermo Barros Schelotto leads the way for the Crew, who also feature United States internationals Robbie Rogers and Chad Marshall, veteran Frankie Hejduk, as well as Venezuelan forward Emilio Renteria and English defender Andy Iro.

Last year, the Crew lost to Toluca 5-4 on aggregate in the quarterfinals.

With all four Mexican squads reaching the semifinals a year ago, expectations are high for Santos Laguna, which easily defeated San Juan Jabloteh 6-0 on aggregate in the Preliminary Round to qualify for the Group Stage.

Santos reached the semifinals of the inaugural 2008 tournament where it lost to Mexican rival and eventual champion Atlante. Featuring Mexican international goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez, who anchors the defense and Ecuadorian forward Christian Benitez, who already has five league goals after returning from a loan spell with Birmingham City in England, Santos is undefeated in the Apertura with a 4-0 record, outscoring opponents 12-1.

Municipal, the most successful club in Guatemalan football history, is not often the underdog, but surely Manuel Keosseian's squad should not be taken lightly. Municipal qualified by winning both the 2009 Apertura and 2010 Clausura titles, adding to its trophy case, which features 28 league crowns as well as the CONCACAF Champions Cup in 1974.

To advance to the knockout stage, Municipal, off to a slow start in the league with a 2-1-1 record, will surely depend on captain Juan Carlos Plata, the most prolific scorer in Guatemala's top division. He has 299 goals in his 20-year career with Municipal and another 35 for the national team, second only to Carlos Ruiz.

Arguably the most decorated team in Trinidad & Tobago, Joe Public is the country's only squad and second Caribbean team to advance to the Group Stage, besides the Puerto Rico Islanders. The Eastern Lions defeated Brujas from Costa Rica 6-4 on aggregate in the Preliminary Round. Five different players scored for Joe Public, including two by Soca Warriors striker Kerry Baptiste.

Owned by FIFA Vice President and CONCACAF President Jack Warner, Joe Public is making its second Champions League appearance. It defeated the New England Revolution 6-1 on aggregate in 2008 to reach the Group Stage, becoming the first Caribbean squad to beat an American team in CONCACAF competition.

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