With J Hutcherson — Nothing says CONCACAF Champions League excitement like leaving some of your top players at home. The Columbus Crew are using the nagging injury and fatigue excuses to exclude Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Chad Marshall and Danny O'Rourke from the trip to Estadio Corona in Torreon (10pm ET – FSC), and there's every indication we'll be seeing a transitional lineup. In other words, the best team in MLS has decided to go domestic league over Confederation.
Not that this is anything new, but it spoils what should have been the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference vs the team with the best record in the Mexican Primera. Instead it's another MLS coach rolling the odds and deciding to strategize.
"If you win the games at home and tie one on the road you’re in the next round," Crew coach Robert Warzycha told his club's official site. "We have three (points) already and we’re going to try to get some somewhere else…. We play to win, but if you settle for a point down there it would definitely be great. They’re a very good Mexican team."
What's missing here should be obvious. Santos, at home, is likely to use an equally transitional lineup. Columbus wouldn't be attempting to take points off the players that just lost for the first time in the Apertura five games in. Had Columbus traveled at full strength, this was a good chance for an MLS team to do something special – beat any version of a Mexican club in Mexico. Instead, we're getting an example of roster depth… or something.
As the club still three points ahead of them in the Supporters' Shield table already demonstrated in the qualifying stage, there aren't any MLS teams with the luxury to shift their lineups game to game. MLS simply isn't setup to work that way, so it figures that teams would try it at the highest competitive level.
Squad rotation doesn't work in MLS, especially when you're rotating out the players that are crucial. That it's Columbus, the team that unnecessarily handicapped themselves right out of the playoffs last season, isn't exactly the ideal statement for what this League should be about.
Just saying, but some of us might want to see the League strong enough so that the Mexican clubs have no alternative but to field their best eleven or risk embarrassment home and away. Aren't we past the point where we're supposed to nod along that yes, that big home game against Dallas this Saturday really is more important than an away date in Mexico?
Meanwhile, MLS's Canadian outpost is apparently the only place where the Champions League might actually take immediate precedent. Toronto is expected to be at or close to full strength tonight in Panama (8pm ET – FSC). They're selling the story that this is an opportunity. Arabe Unido's disciplinary issues means they can't be at full strength, and Toronto is all about playing that advantage.
It's somehow appropriate that Toronto has a better excuse to look past tonight and shift their focus to MLS play. They've got the 2nd-place team in the Western Conference on Saturday as they try to reestablish Fortress BMO and fight their way up the Eastern Conference table from 3rd.
With only 1st and 2nd moving directly to the playoffs from each Conference, Toronto is well aware that in the single-table 3rd in the East means 9th in the playoff standings. Level on games played with Colorado, they're two points out of the playoff picture. Yet it's Toronto giving MLS the best shot at an away result later tonight.
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