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Greatest games in Crew history: 2002 MLS Cup semifinal

Two offensive powers face off in Crew Stadium in a classic match

Earthquakes v Crew Photo by Tom Pidgeon/MLS/Getty Images

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. After beginning with the inaugural Crew match against D.C. United, we look back at the 2002 MLS Cup playoff semifinal leg 2 win against the San Jose Earthquakes.

Dilemma by Nelly (feat. Kelly Rowland) was the number 1 song in America. The first The Ring movie was in theaters. Ohio State’s football team had gone to Bloomington and beaten Indiana to go 5-0 on their way to an eventual BCS National Championship. But most importantly the Columbus Crew had some business to finish on Sept. 28, 2002, as part of the MLS Cup playoffs.

Two days prior, the Black and Gold had gone to San Jose and taken the first leg 2-1. This was an upset int he best of three legs, as the Crew was the No. 6 seed, going against No. 3 seed Earthquakes. On this Saturday evening, Columbus looked to put the series away and move on to the Conference Fianls, and needed some late-match heroics to do so.

That year, head coach Greg Andrulis’ side tied with the New England Revolution in the regular season for first place in the Eastern Conference with 38 points. At the playing of the game, the Crew had earned a spot in the U.S. Open Cup final, again relying on some very late-game goals in the semifinals to beat the Kansas City Wizards in another memorable game in Crew Stadium. One of the strongest sides Columbus had yet to see went on to beat LA Galaxy to secure the Open Cup.

For the season, forward Jeff Cuningham led the team in goals with 16, good for third in MLS that year. The entire team experienced strong offensive output, tied for second in the league in goals. Goalkeepers Tom Presthus and Jon Busch split time and tied for second in the league in goalkeeping.

Confidence was high as the Crew entered the playoffs. In the first leg of the semifinals, the Black & Gold opened the scoring with a 38th minute goal by Edson Buddle. Ten minutes into the second half, Landon Donovan equalized for San Jose. Columbus could have been satisfied to run out the draw and go back home with a road result but the Earthquakes were a strong side, earning 45 points which was good for second place in the entire league. With 44 goals in the regular season, San Jose was an equal offensive threat that could pull away at any time.

Thankfully, it was an 81st minute Freddy Garcia goal that sent the Crew back to Columbus with a 2-1 in the first leg of the series.

With one of the biggest crowds in the MLS Cup that year, Crew Stadium was ready to see their Black & Gold side move on. After a scoreless first half, it was Garcia again who opened the scoring in the 50th minute. Just eight minutes later though, Ariel Graziani equalized. With the aggregate at 5-3, the next goal would make or break the Crew’s playoff run. Another goal from San Jose would have made things rather tight and potentially led to a third game. Columbus had to sit back and defend for the next 30-plus nail-biting minutes. The ever-present offensive threat posed by the Earthquakes kept Black & Gold supporters on the edge of their seats.

It was, again, a late-game goal that secured the series win. This time, Crew legend Brian McBride was on the finishing end of an 81st minute goal that sent Columbus through to the next round of the MLS Cup playoffs.

Facing Columbus in the next round was Eastern Conference leaders, New England Revolution. Unfortunately, the Crew could not overcome the 1-0 loss at home, and late-match efforts from McBride (80) and Dante Washington (81) weren’t quite enough to secure an MLS Cup Final appearance. What followed was a series of transitional years as McBride left for Fulham FC in 2004, Andrulis was replaced and his replacement, Robert Warzycha did not last long. Eventually, the Crew put it all together in 2008, but the 2002 season was a good start to a successful decade for the Black & Gold.