Chad Barson, Ben Speas and Josh Williams returned to the Akron community during Tuesday's Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match, but that wasn't the only reunion taking place on the sidelines. Indy Eleven Director of Soccer Operations and Head Coach Juergen Sommer was a Crew goalkeeper from 1998-1999, a time period that he remembers fondly.
"The best part [of being with] the Crew was when the League was really starting. It started in '96, and I came at the beginning of '98," said Sommer. "The group of players that were in there at that time — Thomas Dooley, Mike Clark, Stern John, Brian McBride — we had a really great group of guys and players there, most of which I'm still very fond of and friends with today. I see them quite a few times during the course of the soccer year.
"We had a great group, and I felt like we were pioneering back in those days, going from the Horseshoe (Ohio Stadium) to Crew Stadium. It was fun to open up that soccer-specific stadium in Columbus."
Sommer, who became the first American goalkeeper to play in the Premier League upon his move to Queens Park Rangers in 1995, also took the time to speak fondly about the Crew's original owner, Mr. Lamar Hunt.
"Lamar Hunt is probably the biggest memory for me, to see how committed Lamar was to not only developing the Columbus Crew but being committed to the League and growing the League and sport as a whole. You talk about a hands-on owner — he was there for volunteer nights. It was great to see that. When you see somebody like him that invested, it's pretty impressive."
Sommer was also one of four direct Columbus representatives on the 1998 United States FIFA World Cup roster, joining Brian Maisonneuve, Dooley and McBride. Although he was a member of Tampa Bay Mutiny at that time, Frankie Hejduk was also on that squad.
" was just a tough World Cup for us, a real disappointment from a results standpoint," said Sommer. "Going back to that '98 Crew team, we had quite a few guys in the mix there... It was wonderful to have it in France; it was a great experience over there. You look back on how the team did and trying to advance out of the group. Not winning a game was difficult, but it's always a great experience."