Columbus Crew travel to Mexico this week looking to spring an upset of defending CONCACAF Champions Cup runners-up CA Monarcas Morelia as the two sides begin their quarterfinal series Wednesday.
Columbus enter the quarterfinals after a come-from-behind defeat of Deportivo Arabe Unido of Panama, dropping the first leg on the road, but winning 3:1 on aggregate after a comprehensive victory at Crew Stadium on 23 March. Monarcas also had to overcome a 1:0 deficit entering the second leg of their first-round series to advance to the quarterfinals; a 4:0 win at home against CSD Comunicaciones of Guatemala on 26 March booking their place.
Columbus will be hoping the start of the 2003 Major League Soccer season helps in building their fitness. They opened the campaign at the weekend with a 1:1 draw at home against Los Angeles Galaxy, then travel to NY/NJ MetroStars this weekend after the match in Morelia.
Crew midfielder Fredy García, also a Guatemalan international, says the opponent does not make things any easier.
"We have been matched up with Morelia, a difficult opponent like all the clubs in the Mexican league, especially considering the quality of players they have, we hope to put up a good fight in this Champions Cup," Garcia said. "I believe play in this cup is very competitive, because of the quality of the teams involved we are hoping for success, we are hoping to bring the cup to Columbus."
For Morelia, the match comes after a hard-fought 1:1 draw on the weekend with CD Guadalajara. Reinaldo Navia gave Monarcas the lead on 31 minutes, only to have Jair García equalize 10 minutes later.
Monarcas are presently in fifth place in the overall table in the Torneo Clausura in Mexico's Primera Division, three points off the pace set by leaders Atlante FC. But their with 22 points from 13 matches leads Group Three, four better than Club San Luis. In the midst of in important stretch of the schedule, with a match against San Luis looming on the weekend, head coach Rubén Omar Romano has indicated he may not send out his entire first-choice side against Crew.
"We don't know much about them, and tomorrow we will see what team we'll put on the field. I don't think it will be a full first team, but some yes and some no," Romano said. "There are three or four (starters) that surely will not play and, looking ahead, I don't wish to risk much for Saturday's game, which is very important for us."