COLUMBUS, Ohio – Robert Warzycha was sure he was going to retire, win or lose, after the 2002 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup final between Columbus and Los Angeles.
What the longtime Crew midfielder, known for his booming shots and accurate free kicks, couldn’t have foreseen was that he would end his career with a defensive play that would give Columbus their first championship in any competition.
Fast forward eight years and the now Crew coach hopes to earn a second Open Cup title again against a team coached by Sigi Schmid.
“We’ll see what happens this time,” Warzycha said.
The Crew go into Tuesday’s final at Qwest Field as a decided underdog against the defending Open Cup champions Seattle Sounders FC.
Not only did Seattle gain confidence from a 4-0 pasting of the Crew on Sept. 18 in Columbus, but they will have a title game record crowd of more than 32,000 in support.
“We know it’s going to be loud and a tough place to play,” Crew goalkeeper William Hesmer said. “But it’s a chance to win a championship. That’s why we play these games.”
When Columbus won in 2002, they also had the backing of their home crowd, although there were only 6,054 in Crew Stadium on a cold Oct. 24 night.
[inline_node:320027]“It was nice to be at home,” said midfielder Duncan Oughton, the lone active Crew player who was part of the 1-0 victory over the Galaxy. “I remember the crowd not being as big as we would have liked. It’s going to be different in Seattle.”
Columbus will face pressure on Tuesday, but it was a different burden than the type of pressure the squad carried into the 2002 final.
Columbus was a charter member of MLS in 1996 but had nothing to show for it despite coming close several times. The Crew lost the Eastern Conference finals to D.C. United in 1997, ‘98 and ’99, and suffered an agonizing overtime loss at Chicago in the 1998 US Open Cup championship.
Fans were wondering if a trophy would ever be lifted when the Crew took the field against a Galaxy team that had won their first MLS Cup four days earlier and were none too happy to be in Columbus or playing again so soon.
Oughton also wasn’t pleased.
“I remember I couldn’t get any more of the boots in the size I wore in black, so they sent me red ones,” he said. “I think I still have those boots.”
He used those fancy shoes to deflect a shot by Simon Elliott to preserve a scoreless game and then almost score a goal in the 30th minute.
“Freddy Garcia banged the goal. I was right behind him. I was going to bang it in [but] he jumped in front, the little rascal,” Oughton joked.
The lead held even as Chad McCarty was ejected in the 83rd minute for a second caution. Jon Busch made several great stops and Warzycha saved the game in the first minute of added time when he cleared a Carlos Ruiz rebound off the goal line as Alejandro Moreno was ready to drive the ball into the open net.
“I never thought about that ending,” Warzycha said. “I was more of a team player. For me it was a success because we won the Open Cup.”
That was it for Warzycha as far as his playing days.
“I knew [before the game] that I was going to retire,” he said. “I didn’t play much that year and, coming back from injury, I was a player-assistant. I knew that I had to move on and do something different.”
He became a fulltime assistant the next year and was interim head coach for the second half of the 2005 season before Schmid took over.
Warzycha remained the No. 2 man until Schmid left for Seattle after guiding the Crew to the 2008 MLS Cup title.
Warzycha and Schmid remain friends, but one will hold a little grudge after Tuesday’s match.