A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor-in-Chief...
Columbus Crew capture MLS Cup
The Columbus Crew faced a game effort from RBNY but behind three assists from Guillermo Barros Schelotto, they methodically and calmly put away the Exit 16W side, winning 3-1 to capture their first MLS Cup at the Home Depot Center outside of Los Angeles.
The Crew came into this match as overwhelming favorites with good reason. They captured their 2nd Supporter’s Shield for the league’s best regular season record and placed three players on MLS’ Best XI team.
In Sigi Schmid, they had the league’s Coach of the Year, the Defender of the Year in Chad Marshall and in Barros Schelotto, the league’s MVP. His 19 assists were the second most in league history.
RBNY had none of that, qualifying for the playoffs on the last day only after DC United lost. But what they did have a was hot goal keeper in Danny Cepero (making just his sixth start as MLS pro) a proven striker in Juan Pablo Angel and a breakout star in Jamaica’s Dane Richards.
They also had supreme confidence after going on the road to knock off the two time defending champions (Houston Dynamo) and Real Salt Lake (3rd in the West). Oh and one more thing: they also were the only team in MLS winning record against Columbus.
It was this confidence that helped RBNY put Columbus under pressure for most of the first half. Using the flanks (especially on the left through David van den Bergh) and playing at a higher tempo than expected, they looked like the higher seed early on. Van den Bergh’s crosses from along the left end line were effective, even if predictable.
In the 13th minute he crossed into the area after being played in by Angel. John Wolyniec chested down the cross but it ran away from him and Crew GK Will Hesmer pounced on it.
About a minuter later, Richards darted in from the right set up Wolyniec but his shot was saved. Angel headed a diagonal ball into the path of Vandenbergh who put in another cross that was headed down by Wolyniec and collected by Hesmer. Kevin Goldthwaite flicked a header just wide of the left post from a corner kick in the 18th mintue.
RBNY were clearly in the ascendancy early, claiming 3 corner kicks in the first 26 minutes. Columbus, for their part were unable to get into hte match. Barros Schelotto had few touches and no one could complete a pass in the final third.
However, Barros Schelotto’s first meaningful touch from a restart almost led to a goal as captain Frankie Hejduk received his pass down the right flank and headed it towards the area for Alejandro Moreno.
Moreno one touched a pass back to Eddie Gaven. Gaven’s shot was from outside the area was comfortably saved by Cepero. But Columbus was now awake.
RBNY threatened again from the left but this time through Richards who deftly escaped three defenders and found himself in the box. He played left to right for Angel but the Colombian rifled his volley just past the left upright.
Certainly RBNY was creating chances but they paid the price for not converting in the 31st minute. Barros Schelotto stripped the ball from Van Den Bergh and quickly played Moreno up the right side line.
Moreno faked his defender Diego Jimenez inside then beat him outside and pushed by him into the area. He left fly on a low shot that just tucked itself inside the left post past the dive of Cepero.
It was brilliant accuracy at top speed with a defender in pursuit. For all of RBNY’s hardwork, they now trailed 1-0, for the first time in the playoffs on a goal that was the true definition of against the run of play.
Stunned RBNY tried to fight back with Van den Bergh forcing a save from 25 yards out four minutes from the break. But Columbus began to find spaces with balls over the top of the defense and had to feel good going in the locker room. 1-0 with 45 minutes of hard work ahead of them.
RBNY were undeterred and got their deserved equalizer six minutes after the restart. Predictably, it was Richards who created it from the right side. He faced up Gino Padulo, darted past Brad Evans towards the area and slipped a neat pass into the box for an on rushing Wolyniec. Wolyniec slid in and beat Hesmer with the outside of his left foot. 1-1.Richards has become a star in these playoffs and it was fitting that his quickness and guile helped put RBNY on even terms. Credit Wolniec with a neat finish in traffic as well. The eurphoria was short lived.
Columbus forced a corner from the restart. Barros Schelotto put the corner kick right on the six yard box for an on rushing Chad Marshall who headed home with authority (apologies to Marv Albert). The ferocity of the header recalled the equalizer against Chicago the previous week but the timing recalled Brian Ching’s goal for Houston in overtime of MLS Cup ’06 as an immediate answer to a big goal. Not even two minutes elapsed and it was 2-1 Columbus.
Richards tried to get RBNY back, making a 35 yard run down the right side and lifting a cross that only Hesmer came to meet. Columbus began to key on him at this point remarking that Richards “was all that they (RBNY) had”, illustrated by his drawing a yellow card from Padula in the 69th minute as he threatened to go by him.
However, at this point, it was all Columbus. Confident and working as an 11 man unit, they clearly had control of the match. Barros Schelotto almost put it away on 77 minutes, hitting the cross bar from about 25 yards out after Moreno’s work down the left side drew two defenders and he laid it back to the Argentine.Five minutes later it was over as a bit of brilliance by Barros Schelotto and energy from the Hejduk wrapped up the Cup for Columbus. Moreno collected the ball in space on the right side and moved toward the area.
His pass to Eddie Gaven just inside the top of the box was inercepted but not sufficiently cleared and it fell back Gaven’s feet. Gaven held off a defender and laid the ball outside to Barros Schelotto. The Argentine chipped the ball with his toe right onto the head of Hejduk who apparently no one saw make about a 70 yard run into the area.
Hejduk’s simple headed shot past Cepero was deserved contribution for the Columbus captain. An MLS original and a two time World Cup veteran, Hejduk has made the most of his career in a way that few players have. His goal basically assured the his and the Crew’s first championship. 3-1.
The Crew effectively killed the game off through injury time, surviving a point blank shot by Sinisa Ubiparipovic in injury time. Sigi Schmid had returned to a place where he had been fired four years earlier when the team was still in first place and became the first man to coach two MLS teams to a title.
Barros Schelotto claimed MLS Cup MVP honors becoming the first player to tally three assists in the Cup final since Marco Etcheverry in 1996. The Crew became the first MLS team to win the Supporter’s Shield and MLS Cup in the same season since 2002.Full props to RBNY. They made a playoff run that surpassed even the Colorado Rapids’ run of 1997. The post season bodes well for them as they get ready to move into a new stadium (Guess I can’t refer to them as Exit 16W anymore).
But on this day, MLS’ most complete team rightfully claimed what was theirs: an MLS Cup.