LEWIS CENTER, Ohio – Jeff Cunningham is still without a contract, but he has made it clear that a return to Columbus appeals to him both on a personal and professional level.
“I’m here,” he said Wednesday at the SuperKick indoor facility north of Columbus. “I want to be here. It would be fitting to end my career where it all started. I had most of my success here.”
The Crew drafted Cunningham out of the University of South Florida in 1998, and the forward scored 62 career goals to tie the team mark set by Brian McBride.
However, Cunningham was traded to Colorado in 2005, and after stops at Real Salt Lake and briefly Toronto FC, he spent the past three seasons with FC Dallas, helping them reach the 2010 MLS Cup. His contract was not renewed and his rights were obtained by the Crew via the MLS Re-Entry Draft in December.
He remains unsigned although he made an unannounced visit to Columbus on Tuesday and has worked out on his own at the past two Crew practices.
Crew technical director Brian Bliss said he appreciated Cunningham’s initiative and hopes to finalize an agreement by the end of the week.
Cunningham is not just being sentimental when he discusses his reasons for wanting to have a chance to break the MLS goal record of 133 by former D.C. United forward Jaime Moreno, whom he trails by one.
[inline_node:325027]“I have roots here as well,” he said. “My family is still here and I have many friends in the community. There’s something about this city that you leave but you seem to want to come back to.”
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His older brother, Boclair Stennett, came to Columbus during Cunningham’s first stint and stayed.
“If a cable man comes to your house with a Jamaican accent that looks like me, that’s my brother,” Cunningham joked.
He would also like to expand his business contacts if he does return to the Crew.
“Obviously, there’s life after football and it’s important for me to develop these relationships and see what possibilities are there,” he said. “I could see myself settling here. Who knows?”
Yet, the 34-year-old made it clear he’s not ready to retire soon, noting Crew coach Robert Warzycha – his teammate in Columbus through the 2002 season – retired at age 39.
“I don’t foresee doing that,” Cunningham said. “These young players have gotten much better and the league standards are higher. I know I can contribute another two seasons, possibly three.
“I’d like the opportunity to stay here,” he added. “That’s important to me and I think I’m deserving of it. I have 13 years of service in the league. I hope they respect that.”