Jeff Cunningham is headed back to Columbus.
The Columbus Crew announced Friday that they have signed MLS' second all-time leading scorer in league history to a multi-year deal, welcoming one of most prolific offensive threats in franchise history back into the fold.
The Crew selected Cunningham, 34, in Stage 2 of the Re-Entry Draft last month. The two sides struggled to come to terms on a contract initially and Cunningham ventured to Norway for a brief training spell with IK Start, but the league veteran showed up in Columbus camp earlier this week with an eagerness to close out his career with the Crew.
“I want to be here,” Cunningham said earlier this week. “It would be fitting to end my career where it all started. I had most of my success here.”
[inline_node:327211]The University of South Florida alum was drafted by the Crew with the No. 9 pick in the 1998 MLS SuperDraft and debuted with Columbus that season, his first of seven years with the club before departing after the 2004 season.
He scored 62 goals during his time there while partnering with Crew legend Brian McBride, and the two players are tied atop the goal-scoring ranks in franchise history. Cunningham was also an MLS Best XI selection with Columbus in 2002, one of three Best XI honors during his career.
After leaving the Crew, he bounced around with Colorado, Real Salt Lake and Toronto FC before he landed with FC Dallas midway through the 2008 season, and spent two-plus seasons in Texas.
During his time in Frisco, he won the Budweiser Golden Boot with 17 goals in 2009 and added another 11 last season, proving his worth as a valuable commodity off the bench while FCD made their first MLS Cup appearance in franchise history.
Cunningham also sits on the cusp of league history heading into his 14th season in MLS. Although he briefly tied all-time leading scorer Jaime Moreno for the top mark in league history last season at 132 goals, Moreno scored his 133rd goal during the season finale, giving the D.C. United icon bragging rights as he ended his legendary career in Washington after the season.
“I’m really excited to return to the club where I started my professional career,” Cunningham said in a statement. “I scored the first goal of my career in a Crew jersey and my 100th at Crew Stadium [while with FC Dallas], and it is a place that has always been special to me. It’s only fitting that I break the all-time scoring record in black and gold.”