The Crew didn't let the impudent Red Bulls snatch away their shot at destiny. They dueled and won Major League Soccer's ultimate prize.By Andrea Canales
CARSON, California -- Major League Soccer's Columbus Crew had never made it to the championship match to contest the Cup. Neither had the New York Red Bulls. Despite a name change for New York, which started its history as the MetroStars, both clubs were league originals. Now, finally, in the thirteenth year of MLS, one of the two was about to get lucky.
Destiny seemed to favor the Crew at first. The team rebounded from an injury-plagued 2007 season in a big way. They finally seemed to really click with their midfield magician, Argentine Guillermo Barros Schelotto. The playmaker with the soft passing touch was producing assists at a record pace, getting the whole team involved in a balanced attack. The team's fighting spirit was ignited as they took the Supporter's Shield, the trophy for the top record in the MLS regular season.
That doesn't matter in the playoffs, though. The Crew had won the Shield before, in 2005, but had then been eliminated in the first round of the postseason. The toughness of the team came through, however, as the Crew fought off one-goal deficits against both the Kansas City Wizards and the Chicago Fire in the playoffs to ultimately prevail to advance to the final game.
Meanwhile, fate had smiled on the Red Bulls. Given the chance via the wildcard spot in the playoffs to advance through the Western Conference bracket, New York made the most of the opportunity. They took out the defending champion Houston Dynamo by an aggregate 4-1 score, and survived a wild match versus Real Salt Lake with a 1-0 victory.
In the championship game, New York more than showed that they deserved to be in the final. They pressured Columbus early on, disrupting the passing game of the Crew and charging through the midfield to create chances. The Ohio team appeared baffled at the energy exhibited by the Red Bulls and only their organized defensive line limited the damage inflicted by New York.
It appeared that New York would break through, though, when Juan Pablo Angel, a consummate finisher, had the ball on his foot in the 29th minute. His shot was high, though.
The Crew finally found their rhythm, when their bandleader, Schelotto, set the tempo. Against the run of play, he calmly found an opening in the midfield through which he threaded a pass to scrappy forward Alejandro Moreno, who did not fall down or waste the opportunity. Instead, Moreno controlled the ball well, slotting to the far post past goalkeeper Danny Cepero.
The Red Bulls hadn't taken their chances, and Columbus had.
New York played from behind for the first time in the postseason. The Bulls weren't done yet, however. The player born and raised in the area, John Wolyniec, made sure of that. When Dane Richards charged into the box, Wolyniec, who has never had the speed other players have been blessed with, used an extra bit of effort to stretch a long leg out in front of this defender and poke the ball Richards passed him into the net.
At this point, though, the team passing game that had been missing for Columbus was clicking, and they struck back a short time later. Schelotto killed New York softly, lofting a perfect dipping corner kick into the area for Chad Marshall to power through with a header.
Losing their equalizer so quickly seemed to demoralize New York almost as much as it inspired Columbus. The majority of possession ran through the Crew players from then on out. It was the final topper to their triumph when a chip pass from Schelotto set up the last goal of the game by the team's inspiration and captain, Frankie Hejduk.
The yellow-clad fans of the Crew celebrated in the stands, their colors representing the sunshine of a new dawn in MLS with the first-time champions.
Destiny danced with both teams, but Columbus made sure it came home to Ohio.
Andrea Canales is Chief Editor of Goal.com USA