The date was May 6, 2001. Playing on the road at Stockport County, Crystal Palace FC was fighting to fend off relegation in the English First Division on the final day of the season. The match came down to the wire, but Dougie Freedman struck with just three minutes to go to ensure survival for the Eagles. The visiting fans went wild, storming the field in jubilation. Among the Crystal Palace players they rushed the pitch to celebrate with? Then-27-year-old Gregg Berhalter, Crystal Palace defender.
"Specifically, my first year, I remember having to fight off relegation and having tremendous fan support in our away games," said Berhalter. "I think we scored in the last two minutes of the last game of the season against Stockport to stay up. All the fans stormed the field, and that was a special moment. Although it wasn’t great times for the club, to end the season like that was amazing and the fans really enjoyed that.”
Crystal Palace has had its ups-and-downs over the years, but 2013-14 was a success for the Eagles, who finished 11th in their return to topflight English football. The club finished the Premier League season 5-1-2 over its last eight games, with wins over Chelsea, Everton and Aston Villa included in that stretch. Also included in that late-season run of form was an exciting 3-3 draw against Liverpool in a match that will be notorious for Palace's three goals in the final 11 minutes to put a dent in Liverpool's title dreams.
Now, the Eagles come to America to face-off against the Crew as part of a preseason tour that will also see them play Philadelphia Union and Richmond Kickers. While the Crew Sporting Director and Head Coach is a prominent link between the two sides, it's not the only one: former Columbus forward Stern John also suited up for Crystal Palace from 2009-2010.
Berhalter is also the first ever World Cup representative from Crystal Palace, a fact that is impressive given the club's history.
“It’s tradition. They’ve been around English football for a long time," said Berhalter. "It’s a traditional club in London. When you start naming some of those teams in London, it’s a pretty special group, and Crystal Palace is part of that. Selhurst Park is a great place for football; a lot of memorable games took place there. It’s a team that keeps going, and that’s a pretty special quality.”