To help celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the Crew's 2002 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup victory, TheCrew.com will be catching up with a few of the players that helped bring the first piece of silverware to Columbus throughout the 2012 season. The series continues with former Crew captain, Mike Clark.
Cody Sharrett: Looking back on 2002, what's it mean to you to be part of the team that won the first-ever trophy for the Crew?
Mike Clark: It means a lot. I look back at my time with the Columbus Crew and Major League soccer, and I was very fortunate to be a part of a lot of firsts. I was part of the first team to ever christen Crew Stadium, the first team to ever play in the 'Shoe, so to be the first team to put a little bit of hardware in the trophy case too, it means a lot. It's something I'll always be able to have and think about. Obviously, I regret not being able to win the big one, MLS Cup. But, to be able to have the Open Cup championship and to be a part of the first team to put that in the trophy case-- which I believe it's the oldest cup in US Soccer history-- I think it's cool and something to be proud of.
CS: In addition to the Open Cup, you guys also finished second place in the MLS Eastern Conference. You, Brian McBride, Brian Maisonneuve were established veterans, but you also had young talent that contributed. What was it that made that team successful?
MC: I think that looking back through all those years, not just 2002, we had other teams as well that saw a lot of success. We had a really a tight knit group of individuals. Guy like McBride, Maisonneuve, myself and Todd Yeagley who were there from the very start in 1996, and then the Crew did a good job of not only drafting and bringing in talented guys to play, but also guys that, character-wise, were awesome dudes like (Kyle) Martino and Duncan Oughton, believe it or not. They brought guys in that were awesome teammates and carried the tradition on with guys like Frankie (Hejduk). They just brought in great guys, guys that hung out with each other after practice and after games. I'm sure-- I don't know if they do that to this day, but I'm sure the Crew has always done a good job of getting guys that can blend well. I just think back and some of the best times in my career were times off the soccer field with guys like Martino and Oughton and a bunch of those younger guys that came up through the ranks.
CS: You were one of the leaders of that team. What kind of pride to you take in leading a team to its first championship?
MC: That was an amazing run that we had. In the semifinal and the final, everybody contributed. I guess that's the biggest thing I remember. Literally, it wasn't just 11 guys on the field that contributed. We went into the bench, we had guys coming off the bench. It was truly a team effort. We had great leadership from the veterans. That was a shared responsibility that we all took seriously. We had all been so close before. There were some heartbreaking losses before that year. The one that sticks out in my mind is Rochester (in 1999). That was the year the final was at our home stadium and we sat there and had to watch another team win the Open Cup in our own stadium. That stung a little bit. We definitely, as veterans, went around and we were able to remind them that this doesn't happen very often. It was a special time and a special year for sure.
CS: In the 2002 US Open Cup championship game, you had McCarthy sent off in the 83rd minute. As a defender, explain those last few minutes holding onto that 1-0 lead against LA.
MC: I remember just being dead tired. No matter what the top finisher feels like, the team's got a goal lead with a minute remaining in the game and for whatever reason it feels like the team is down. Obviously, they're throwing everyone they can forward to tie it up, especially in a championship game. Being a man down, it was just tremendous pressure. Guys are just flying around, throwing themselves in front of the ball. Corner kicks and set pieces, we were battling for everything in the air. It was one of those times where you just left it all on the field and it worked out in our favor.
CS: A couple years prior to the 2002 Open Cup championship, the tournament was renamed after the Crew's founder, Lamar Hunt. What did it mean to you to win the Open Cup in his presence?
MC: It meant everything. He was such a great ambassador for American soccer. We were very blessed to have him as the owner of the Crew. He was really approachable and always there to listen and talk to you. You don't get to his position without being competitive. To be able to hand him a trophy and say 'thanks', that's the ultimate thanks. That's what we all do this for is to get hardware. That was awesome. That meant a lot and I know everybody on the field that day-- I still look at pictures from that night where the team is surrounding the Cup and it's just great to see that and to have been part of that is pretty neat. That's the best way a player can reward an owner is to win something for him.