OBETZ, Ohio — Jeff Cunningham slid behind the FC Dallas defense in sync with the weighted ball from Emilio Rentería and took a first touch on the right side of the penalty area.
As goalkeeper Kevin Hartman tried to cover the near post, Cunningham unleashed a low shot that he hoped would put him in the record book. Instead, the ball settled outside the target and into the side netting for a goal kick.
The play occurred in the 62nd minute of the Crew’s third game on April 1. At that point, it seemed inevitable that Cunningham would get a goal to tie the MLS career mark of 133 set by Jaime Moreno.
The goal would also break the Crew team mark of 62 that he shares with Brian McBride and equal McBride’s 169 points, another club record.
Cunningham, whose contract was not renewed by FCD after 2010 and was claimed in the MLS Re-Entry Draft by the Crew, started and played 61 minutes in the season-opener against D.C. United before not being used in the second match.
He then came off the bench for 30 minutes vs. FC Dallas and recorded his first shot of year with the misfire on Hartman.
But since those 91 minutes through three games, Cunningham has appeared in only three of the last seven matches, for a combined 40 minutes. He has taken one more shot (April 16 vs. Sporting KC) and has yet to put one on goal.
Moreno’s record looks safe for the moment.
“Maybe he’s pressing to do a little bit more than he normally would,” Crew technical director Brian Bliss said of Cunningham. “It’s human nature. I would feel it, too, in that situation. It’s a weight that’s on him.
“Does he deserve more minutes? Maybe down the road based on the last couple of substitutions where he’s shown more than he did the first three or four times at the beginning,” Bliss added. “I still think he’ll get it. It’s just a matter of when.”
Cunningham, 34, dropped to fourth on the forward depth chart behind Rentería, Andrés Mendoza (the team’s Designated Player) and Tommy Heinemann, who spent the past two years in the D2 ranks.
Rentería will miss Saturday’s match against Chivas USA (7:30 pm ET; Direct Kick, MatchDay Live) because of a left quadriceps strain, so there’s a good chance Cunningham could start or at least play, depending whether coach Robert Warzycha goes with one or two forwards.
“Hopefully, the [goal] is going to be against Chivas,” Warzycha said. “If he scores once, there’s going to be a bunch.”
That, though, remains to be seen. Warzycha said Cunningham has to be used in the right situations.
“If it’s a skillful guy in the box it’s going to be Jeff,” he said. “If we’re defending and need a guy who has a little bit of speed, it might be somebody else. If we have a lot of crosses, it may be Heinemann.”
If Cunningham is frustrated by his lack of playing time, he’s not saying so publicly because he hasn’t spoken to the media in roughly a month.
“There’s no complaints about his attitude,” Bliss said. “He’s been very professional, conducted himself well. I said these things about him before he came to us. I think he’s lived up to it.”