It did what a domestic champion is supposed to do when it plays internationally: it won at home by more than a goal and pitched a shutout. Columbus labored for nearly an hour before breaking through against USL-1 Puerto Rico Islanders, but with second-half goals by substitute Steven Lenhart and Robbie Rogers the Crew posted a 2-0 win at Columbus Crew Stadium
Group C, which also includes defending finalist Cruz Azul and Costa Rican power Deportivo Saprissa, is regarded as the toughest of the four quartets. Those teams square off Wednesday in Mexico City.
After battering away at a bunkered Islanders' team for most of the first half, Crew coach Robert Warzycha removed right back Jed Zayner and brought on Lenhart to play with forward Alejandro Moreno to apply greater pressure. The substitution paid off in the 58th minute, when Lenhart cashed in a six-player move by banging home a feed from Chad Marshall.
Another sub, Eddie Gaven, needed less time to set up the second goal. He entered in the 72nd minute and seven minutes later, fed a ball to Moreno, who relayed it into space for Rogers to stroke into the net.
Columbus outshot the Islanders 15-5 and tested ex-Columbus keeper Bill Gaudette often enough he recorded four saves. At the other end, Will Hesmer's rather quiet evening yielded one save. The Crew's pressure yielded several fouls and three cautions to Islanders' players in the first half an hour.
Guillermo Barros Schelotto, making his first start in a month after sitting out with a pulled hamstring, played the first hour and set up Moreno for a great chance in the 13th minute with a header but his shot at the near post went wide. Peter Villegas missed Puerto Rico's best chance when he narrowly missed the target from close range with about 10 minutes remaining in the first half.
The Crew qualified directly to the group stage as 2008 MLS Cup champion. Puerto Rico advanced by downing Toronto FC in a two-game preliminary series.
Concacaf Champions' League
Aug. 18 in Columbus
Columbus Crew 2, Puerto Rico Islanders 0
Goals: Lenhart (Marshall) 58, Rogers (Moreno) 79
Columbus -- Hesmer, Zayner (Lenhart 46), Brunner, Marshall, Padula, Ekpo (Gaven 72), Carroll, O'Rourke, Rogers, Moreno, Schelotto (Moffat 60).
Puerto Rico Islanders -- Gaudette, Arrieta, Henry, Jones, Krause, Delgado (Fraser,72), Gargan (Gbandi, 88), Marcelin, Steele, Villegas (Mediate, 57), Addlery.
Referee: Roberto Moreno