The halftime ceremony revealed the top five moments in Black & Gold history, which were as follows:
5. The 2008 Supporters’ Shield
4. Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s 2008 MLS regular season and MLS Cup MVPs
3. Columbus is awarded the first MLS club
2. The opening of the first soccer-specific stadium in MLS
1. The 2008 MLS Cup championship
As you can see, 2008 was well represented.
“It was a special year at a special time with a special group of players,” Alejandro Moreno told the fans during the pregame panel discussion, when asked about the 2008 Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup champions. “As we built on our preseason in 2008, I think we thought we were a good team, but we didn’t really know it. I don’t know what we expected from that season, but then we started the season so well. Then it felt like we believed in something that was bigger than ourselves. It’s nice to have a group of players that understand each other and really are willing to do the things on the field to make the team successful, and we did that even though we had Duncan on the field. We overcame that.”
Later, during the press conference, Moreno offered his thoughts on Schelotto’s double-MVP campaign.
“So he showed flashes of that at the end of 2007 and then he had a full preseason behind him going into 2008,” Moreno said. “What we saw from Guillermo, and what we knew right away, was that the game would become very simple for the rest of us. Find Guillermo. He’ll find the difficult pass and then the rest of us will fill in the gaps. If you look at our team in 2008, it was play the ball to me, I will hold it up and find Guillermo, and then let Guillermo find Robbie or Eddie and then we’re all crashing the box. When you have a player with that vision, that ability and that quality, then everybody else’s game becomes a whole lot more simple. By becoming more simple, you become more effective in the way that you play. Guillermo was a tremendous talent all by himself, but within the context of the group, he became even better and made us a whole lot better.”
None of the legends in town were around when Columbus was awarded the first MLS club, so let’s fast forward to the opening of Columbus Crew Stadium (now MAPFRE Stadium) on May 15, 1999. Brian Dunseth participated in that historic occasion, although as a member of the New England Revolution. That means he lost, 2-0. Regardless, he still fondly remembers being a part of history.
“The plane ride in to the city the day before and actually seeing a soccer-specific stadium for the first time,” Dunseth recalled when asked for his memories. “It was a packed house. Lining up in the tunnel before the game and it was a sea of yellow. All of the banana was coming right at me. And then Stern and Jeff Cunningham scoring goals and then me being really (ticked) off because I knew somehow that I was going to get blamed for those goals, because that was kind of the New England Revolution way at that time. Then reading USA Today on Monday and seeing those pictures and knowing that regardless of the result, I was part of something really, really cool.”
Stern John had a goal and an assist in that game. His two years in Columbus happened to be timed in such a way that he got to experience both home stadiums.
“I think from playing at Ohio State at the Horseshoe,” John said, “and then playing in a soccer stadium that was built for soccer, I think that night we were all pumped up for the game and looking forward to playing. I think coming back to the stadium has brought back so many memories for me.”
The 2008 MLS Cup was the obvious number one moment, so I thought it would be fun to circle back to some Crew SC legends who played long before. In my book “A Massive Season," I concocted a last-moment addition where I contacted some of the players who had come before and got their thoughts on Columbus winning MLS Cup.
Two guys I wasn’t able to immediately reach in the week that I was pulling all that together were Stern John and Brad Friedel. Six years after the fact, I figured better late than never.
When I talked to Ansil Elcock for the book, he told me that he and his cousin Stern shared a happy phone call after the game. At long last, I now have Stern’s side of the story.
“I was excited,” John said. “I was excited because when I played here, we wanted to bring an MLS Cup to Columbus. We wanted to be the first to bring an MLS Cup to the Crew. When the guys won it, I was very excited because I know how important this is for Columbus and for the Crew. I was over the moon for them. I was not happy that I wasn’t part of it. That’s the only thing. Other than that, it was really good.”
Stern didn’t get to see the game as it happened, but was ecstatic to hear of the result and talked to Elcock, who shared the details.
“Ansil saw the whole thing and he was excited because he said that we deserved to win. Columbus is always special to me.”
Friedel, meanwhile, did indeed watch the game from England. Not only does Friedel have that Black & Gold connection, but his college coach, Sigi Schmid, was at the helm in Columbus, and one of his very good friends, Mike Lapper, was an assistant coach.
“For Columbus to finally get their name on the cup was a massive thing,” he said. “It was a wonderful day in Columbus Crew history and for one of the smaller markets to win it, it was a great thing to see. I think Schelotto in general, not just in that game, I think he was one of the turning points in Crew history. His skillset is very similar to Higuain in a sense, so there’s another one there. But Schelotto, when the team was sort of plateauing, it was a little bit flat when they signed him, things really took a turn for the plus. Big players come to play in big games. And I mean, Frankie doesn’t score many, but then his celebration was a little bit ridiculous as always.”
Friedel definitely felt some Ohio pride that night, despite being an ocean away.
“If it were any of my ex-teams, let alone my MLS team in my home state, you always watch with a lot of pride,” he said. “I will be watching tonight’s game with a lot of pride.”
And now we come to the Myth Busters portion of the proceedings. I recalled that in the week that followed the 2008 MLS Cup triumph, much was made of Friedel wearing a black & gold goalkeeper kit while playing for Aston Villa. This was interpreted as a shout out to the MLS Cup champions from Ohio. Sadly, I have now learned that the legend is much better than the truth.
“I wore black and gold anyway,” Friedel said. “One of our kits was yellow with black shorts during that season. I think someone was like, ‘Look! He’s wearing it!’ But the reality was that we don’t choose our uniforms over there. They’re pre-chosen before the season even starts. It was just one of those nice coincidences.”