If there has been one consistency for Columbus Crew SC since its first season in 1996, it has been the terrific goalkeeper play. Lets take a look in the rear view mirror and wax nostalgic about the ‘keepers of old, through to today with budding star, Zack Steffen. While this is not a complete list of every goalkeeper in team history, this is a look back at those netminders who made a massive impact while dawning the black and gold, whether it was for a brief period of time or over the span of several seasons.
Brad Friedel (1996-1997) - We all know the international star Friedel became while playing in England. Prior to his move across the pond, Friedel made one heck of a first impression in Major League Soccer. After being acquired midway through the 1996 season, he gave up only seven goals in nine games. He was the Crew’s team Defender of the Year both seasons in Columbus. During his one full season, he earned Team Most Valuable Player honors. After signing a long-term extension after the 1996 season, Friedel was finally able to secure his long-awaited transfer to England, where he became a goalkeeping sensation and picked up that wonderful English accent.
Jurgen Sommer (1998-1999) - To fill the shoes of Friedel, the Crew acquired United States Men’s National Team backup, Jurgen Sommer. Missing time as a member of 1998 U.S. World Cup team, he started only 21 games for the Crew. A memorable moment from his one season as starter was when he nearly scored a goal versus the Dallas Burn at Ohio Stadium. His head found the end of a corner kick in the final seconds, but a great save by Burn ‘keeper, Mark Dodd kept the ball from finding the corner of the goal. An injury kept him off the field in 1999 and he eventually found his way to New England where he ended his career.
Author Note: After a game in 1998, Jurgen tossed his game worn gloves to me and signed them moments later in Autograph Alley. Young Mike was thrilled!
Mark Dougherty (1998-2001) - The most under-appreciated goalkeeper in team history, Dougherty was once the league’s all-time leader in wins, the first to tally 50 victories in MLS history. In 1999 he had the lowest goals against average in the Eastern Conference, along with a career-high 18 wins. His superb play set the team record for fewest goals allowed in a season with a mere 39 goals given up, including five shutouts. He was recognized for his play as the Crew’s Defender of the Year and team’s Most Valuable Player. Disappointingly, a knee injury brought his career to a premature end in 2001.
Tom Presthus (2001-2003) - Presthus was acquired from arch-rival D.C. United during the heyday of the United-Crew rivalry. He started only one season with the Crew in 2001, but earned a positive result in 18 of 25 matches with a 1.36 goals-against-average, receiving the Crew’s Defender of the Year award.\
Random trivia: Presthus earned his first and only cap with the USMNT during former Crew/USMNT captain, Thomas Dooley’s farewell match with the stars & stripes in 1999. Unfortunately, a major elbow injury ended his playing career after the 2003 season. While his career in Columbus was relatively short, his tenure in the city is long lasting, as he and his family continue to call Columbus home today.
Jon Busch (2002-2006) - Despite lacking the height of many of his goalkeeping counterparts, Busch’s play stood plenty tall in the pipes. He played with passion and exuberance. He had an edge to his game that made up for whatever he may have lacked in stature. He led Columbus to their first trophy, winning the 2002 U.S. Open Cup and then the Supporters’s Shield in 2004. Few goalkeepers in league history played with the fervor and intensity of Busch. His 2002 campaign saw him garner team Defender of the Year honors and in 2004 he was named the team MVP.
Even after moving on from Columbus, his electric play continued. Busch won league Goalkeeper of the Year honors in 2008, not with the Crew but with the Chicago Fire. He played another 11 professional seasons after leaving the Black & Gold, but has since made Columbus his residence. He signed a one-day contract with the Crew in 2018 to officially retire as a member of the team.
Andy Gruenebaum (2006-2013) - Gruenebaum was on the Crew roster longer than any ‘keeper in team history, though the majority of his career was as a backup. He manned the goal as a starter for two seasons in 2012 and 2013. Despite lacking significant career playing time, his consistent play allowed him to climb into the top 5 all-time for Crew goalkeeper shutouts. He earned the 2012 Crew Defender of the Year and Team MVP awards in his first season as a starter.
Will Hesmer (2007–2012) - The only goalkeeper thus far to have brought an MLS Cup title to Columbus, Hesmer had a distinguished career with the Crew. Hesmer became the third goalkeeper in league history to score a goal. Late in a match against Toronto FC, Hesmer sprinted up the field during a corner kick. The ball eventually found its way to Hesmer’s foot, he struck the ball and it found its way to the back of the net, tying the game at 2-2. The following celebration by Hesmer and teammates is one for the ages. In fact, a picture of that celebration is Hesmer’s twitter cover photo to this day. Now tell me if this sounds familiar... Injuries cut his career short, forcing Hesmer into retirement prior to his 32nd birthday.
Steve Clark (2014-2016) - Clark was picked up in 2014 via a trade with the Seattle Sounders, and quickly earned the starting job. In his debut campaign with the Crew he played every minute and was named the team’s defender of the year. He also led the Crew to an MLS Cup Final appearance. He was wildly popular with fans, leading the “Yes!” chant with the Nordeke faithful after home games.
Zack Steffen (2016-Present) - After being acquired with minimal hype in 2016, Steffen will no doubt be departing with much fanfare this summer. Manchester City made a record transfer for the young American goalie. He will start his final season with the Crew in March. In just two seasons as the starter, Steffen has climbed his way up the team’s goalkeeper charts with 19 shutouts. Last season, Steffen became the first Crew ‘keeper to earn MLS Goalkeeper of the Year honors since Friedel in 1997. Though his tenure will be brief, his tenure in goal will leave a lasting legacy in Columbus.
Joe Bendik (2019-Present) - When Steffen leaves this summer, the player likely to take over will be MLS veteran, Joe Bendik. With more than 150 MLS appearances over his career with the Portland Timbers, Toronto and most recently with Orlando City, Bendik is unremarkable but a solid and steady goalkeeper. He is a better shot blocker than some fans would have you believe. He commands his goal box and organizes his backline well. He may only be a temporary starter in Columbus, as another starting caliber ‘keeper may be brought in later this season or next offseason, but do not be surprised if the 29 year old, 6-foot-2 Bendik earns himself the full-time nod.
In nearly a quarter century of Columbus Crew soccer, the Black & Gold have been blessed with an innumerable amount of terrific goalkeepers. A blessing we as fans should not take for granted. Who do you think is the greatest goal keeper in Crew history? Who was your personal favorite Crew shot stopper?