By Ryan Fleming
For the first competitive match of the new season, the CONCACAF Champions League matchup between the Columbus Crew and Real Salt Lake, we saw exactly what many expected and a little of a different color. In a scoreless 0-0 tie, one could still make a fair amount of the play.
1. Columbus showed they came to play. Before the game many were leaning toward a more dominant performance from the away, RSL. The revamped Crew showed it had other plans. More specifically, with Andres Mendoza and Emilio Renteria as up-front options, the Crew don’t only have a bit of skill, but a lot of speed to boot. When midfielder Eddie Gaven and Emmanuel Ekpo begin to get their feet under them, Columbus could prove a few people wrong this season despite losing playmaker Guillermo Barros Schelotto.
2. RSL showed some character. Despite all the red cards being thrown around in the second half — Real went down to nine men — Jason Kreis’s side showed some guile in seeing out the match, earning a hard earned point. With only nine men and what would probably seem like no man’s land, Real went on the attack instead of sitting back. With Kyle Beckerman clogging up the midfield, the Royals could afford to roll the dice. Surviving the last five minutes, which saw Columbus carry most of the play, showed that despite getting outplayed in the first half, and playing a man down for nearly 40 minutes, Real can handle some adversity.
3. Cunningham, Mendoza and Renteria spell Columbus. Obviously it doesn’t, but if you’re a crew supporter it does now. Just don’t enter a spelling bee. Even in one game, Mendoza and Renteria showed the pace and possible chemistry the two could develop as the year progresses. This will prove important to a team that lost nearly 10 players in the offseason including Schelotto, Frankie Hejduk and Gino Padula.
Despite not being as young, agile and having the pace of a younger self, Cunningham will be used a bunch this season and manager Robert Warzycha expects him to produce. At age 34, Cunningham is closing in on the end of his career and with five forwards on the Crew roster, two are rookies, Cunningham could provide veteran leadership as well as goals.
The “second half” as some of the players referred to it on Twitter, is next Tuesday. Expect some better play and perhaps some warmer weather.
Ryan Fleming can be reached at Ryan.Fleming@thesoccerguysonline.com.