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Greatest games in Crew history: The inaugural match vs. D.C. United

As we wait for soccer to resume, we look back on some of the Black & Gold’s most memorable matches.

With the coronavirus outbreak stopping sports leagues across the country, specifically Major League Soccer, we’re celebrating the past and looking back at some of the greatest games in Columbus Crew SC history. We begin today with the game that started it all, April 13, 1996, against rivals D.C. United

The opening day of MLS in Columbus, and the thrilling 4-0 Columbus Crew win against D.C. United in the spring of 1996, had roots that dated back a couple of years prior to FIFA’s biggest tournament.

In 1994, the United States hosted and competed in the World Cup. This month-long sporting spectacle included powerhouse Brazil hoisting the greatest trophy in soccer (or football or fútbol) and the United States Men’s National Team earned a surprising 2-1 win against Colombia in the Rose Bowl in the group stage. Then there was the famous low of Italy’s Roberto Baggio skying a penalty kick in the shootout of the final against Brazil. Baggio’s miss instantly sealed the deal for Brazil.

The 1994 World Cup was must-see TV, which helped to serve as a launching pad for Major League Soccer’s inception. Columbus, Ohio became one of the burgeoning American soccer hubs in the mid-90s.

Two years later, the Columbus Crew hosted eventual 1996 MLS Cup champions D.C. United in Ohio Stadium in front of 25,266 cheering fans for its inaugural MLS game. The lineups at the time for each team featured past, current and future national team players and coaches. The Black & Gold featured established players in Doctor Khumalo (South African) and Janusz Michallik (USMNT). The starting lineup also included rising star Brian McBride (USMNT), Mike Clark, Bo Oshoniyi and Pete Marino, among others. The first Crew coach was Timo Liekoski, a U.S. National Team assistant coach for the 1994 World Cup and U.S. Under-23 coach the following season. However, Tom Fitzgerald (USMNT B-Team assistant coach) replaced Liekoski (6-16) on Aug. 2 and managed a 9-1 regular season record before losing a best-of-three playoff series against the Tampa Bay Mutiny.

United’s starting lineup included players such as Jeff Agoos (USMNT), Marco Etcheverry (Bolivia), John Harkes (USMNT), Richie Williams (USMNT) and Raul Diaz Arce (El Salvador). D.C.’s coach was Bruce Arena (future USMNT coach).

This 1996 match was a perfect start for Columbus. Fans saw the Crew score four exciting goals while earning a shutout. McBride became an instant fan favorite en route to becoming a future USMNT star. He was certainly worthy of the No. 1 overall pick in the 1996 MLS Draft.

Let’s dive into the action from 24 years ago.

The first Columbus goal was the result of when Khumalo, playing on the right side, stole the ball by the corner flag. Khumalo then crossed the now vintage white, blue and green MLS ball towards the middle of United’s six-yard box. However, it was D.C. defender Thor Lee who made contact and kicked the ball into his own goal. Just like that, it was 1-0 Columbus in the 18th minute.

That means the first goal in Columbus Crew history scored by a Crew player was Brian McBride in the 29th minute. After a United fullback whiffed his clearing kick, the Crew forward was there to pounce. With the ball now at his feet just above the penalty box line on the right side of the field, and needing only a couple of dribbles to cut inside to set up his left-footed shot, McBride delivered a laser right past D.C. United goalkeeper Jeff Causey for a 2-0 Columbus lead.

The third Crew goal arrived when McBride showed off his heading skills by redirecting a back-post cross from Adrian Paz back to the top of the six-yard box where an open Marino half-volleyed home a clinical finish off the bounce. It led to an acrobatic front-flip celebration by Marino with a sitting McBride, à la Cirque Du Soleil in the 48th minute.

To cap off an already impressive showing, America’s Hardest Working Team added its fourth goal of the game in slightly unconventional fashion. Crew goalie Bo Oshoniyi punted the ball just a few yards shy of United’s penalty box where McBride headed the ball out of the air to himself inside the box and volleyed home a back-post goal in the 86th minute. That fourth goal belongs in the hall of the club’s greatest finishes along with that bizarre assist by Oshoniyi.

What made the Crew’s 4-0 win even better was sitting with my dad in the closed-end of the Horseshoe, rooting for this new local professional soccer team. The win plus the electric atmosphere made for an unforgettable night. Columbus’ inaugural MLS victory measures up to and stands tall alongside the best Crew games and experiences.

When Saved The Crew happened, it wasn’t just the future that was at stake and ultimately secured, but this successful movement also provided a necessary protection of the past.

On that day in mid-April in 1996, the Columbus Crew made an incredible MLS introduction. Since then, the teams on the field and ownership groups (except one specific owner group) have replicated and continue to build upon that golden start in a myriad of exciting ways for the Black & Gold as well as for the Red, White and Blue.