When Jeff Cunningham returned to the Columbus Crew in the offseason needing just one goal to pull even with Jaime Moreno’s all-time MLS scoring record, he never figured he’d still be stuck on No. 132 halfway through the Crew’s regular-season schedule.
Nor did he ever expect he’d get the chance to tie Moreno’s mark against FC Dallas, the club where he spent the previous two-and-a-half seasons. But that’s fine with the veteran striker, who’s happy to return to Frisco on Saturday (9 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
“I was part of a good team, a good organization,” Cunningham said. “The fans treated me well when I was there. It’s definitely positive memories. I’m sure it’s going to be a lot of emotions. I enjoyed some good years there. It would be great to go back and have a good showing.”
Columbus obtained Cunningham’s rights through last winter’s Re-Entry Draft and signed him for a second stint with the Crew after he scored 62 times (to tie Brian McBride for the Crew all-time lead) from 1998 to 2004.
In the Crew’s third match of the season, Cunningham came off the bench against visiting FC Dallas in the 60th minute and immediately broke free and had a look at the near post, but fired into the side netting.
It was one of his best chances of the season, considering he has appeared in 10 matches and made just three starts for total of 383 minutes and one shot on goal. Cunningham likely will not start Saturday.
And there’s no denying he and his teammates are pressing for that elusive goal.
“He has to make the game come to him instead of chasing it,” Columbus coach Robert Warzycha said. “Sometimes he’s trying too hard and we’re trying to find him. More than anything, he’s trying to help the team, but in the back of everybody’s mind is the [record-tying] goal.”
At this point, Cunningham doesn’t care where he gets the goal, but he admits to do so in Pizza Hut Park would be especially nice.
“If the stars are aligned and God sees that’s it’s my destiny to tie or break the record there, it would only be fitting,” he said. “I would like for it to happen [in Columbus], but if the big man upstairs says that’s where it’s going to happen, I’m just along for the ride.”
Cunningham might have had the record by now if Andrés Mendoza had yielded to him on a penalty kick June 8 vs. Real Salt Lake.
While Mendoza was heavily criticized for taking the PK, Cunningham said at the time — and still believes — the goal helped the struggling Mendoza get on track.
Mendoza has six goals in the past six games, including two last Sunday against Colorado.
“As any goal-scorer can attest to, you get one then the rest will come,” Cunningham said. “He was in a position where he needed that goal as well.
“I know what it’s like,” he added. “I’m there. I’ve been there. The decision was a correct one and I’m happy for him the goals are coming and he’s doing well. Hopefully I can get one and get some goals under my belt.”