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The Crew’s history in the English Premier League

With the EPL kicking back off, we take a look at the Black & Gold’s connections to the English top flight.

Premier League Trophy Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

The English Premier League returns Wednesday after it was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March. In the spirit of the world’s top soccer league returning, Massive Report researched connections between Columbus Crew and the EPL. What did we find? Players with legendary status in both broken limbs and a prison stint.

Not on this list are club connections between former Crew players and current Premier League clubs while they were in lower divisions of the English soccer. Kei Kamara played for Norwich City when the club was part of the English Championship. Gregg Berhalter spent time with current EPL club Crystal Palace while they were fighting to get into the top flight.

Now let’s jump into all the connections, going by the fewest amount of Premier League appearances.

Note: The Premier League started in the 1992/93 season, before that it was known as the First Division. The Championship started in the 2004/05 season, from 1992-04, the league was known as the First Division.

Random connections

Joel Kitamirike during his with with the Chelsea youth squad.
Photo by John Walton/EMPICS via Getty Images

Joel Kitamirike – 2006 – Defender

Premier League matches played: 0*

Crew matches played: 1

The first name on the list is not a household name amongst Black & Gold supporters, but in April of 2006, Kitamirike’s name was on a Crew team sheet. Twice. He was a 72nd minute substitute in a 1-1 draw against the Chicago Fire and sat on the bench for a 3-1 loss to the then Kansas City Wizards. Ugandan-born, Kitamirike began his professional career with Chelsea F.C., in Londo.

*While he never made an appearance in the EPL, he played a single UEFA Cup match for the club against Hapoel Tel Aviv, a 2-0 loss where he logged a full 90 minutes.

In November of 2008, Kitamirike was sentenced to 20 months in prison after he was arrested in Ipswich, England in possession of cocaine, heroin and cannabis. It was his first offense, which was reduced due to the support he received from the Chelsea front office.

Leandre Griffit – 2010-2011 – Midfielder

Premier League matches played: 7

Crew matches played: 4

During the 2010 and 2011 Columbus Crew campaigns, Griffit found his name on the team sheet 10 times, making four appearances and scoring one goal in his debut on July 25, 2010, against the Houston Dynamo. Griffit made his Premier League debut with Southampton, against Brad Friedel and the Blackburn Rovers (you’ll read a lot more about him later in the list). He scored in his nine minutes on the field. His stint in the Premier League ended with 180 minutes logged and two goals.

The Few

MLS - Columbus Crew vs FC Dallas - October 5, 2005
Simon Elliott with the Crew
Photo by Larry Scott Wambsganss/MLS

Simon Elliott – 2004-2005 – Midfielder

Premier League matches played: 12

Crew matches played: 61

A former New Zealand Footballer of the Year, Elliott spent time with four MLS clubs: the LA Galaxy, San Jose Earthquakes, now-defunct Chivas USA and the Crew. In 59 regular season matches, where he played 90 minutes in all but one, he got on the scoresheet once in October 2005 against the Fire. His contribution helped Columbus secure the 2004 Supporters Shield before losing to the New England Revolution in the MLS Cup playoff quarterfinals. Elliott had 14 assists in the two seasons that he played for the club before moving to the EPL’s Fulham F.C. on a free transfer.

In the Premier League, Elliott played alongside Crew legend Brian McBride (more on him later) and made 12 appearances for the first team before being released in May of 2008.

Mark Williams – 2003 – Defender

Premier League matches played: 22

Crew matches played: 5

Williams came to the Crew from Wimbledon F.C., now known as MK Dons, in 2003. While only playing five games for the Black & Gold, Williams went five for five in matches where he received a yellow card. He didn’t take his time either, securing his first Crew booking in the fifth minute of 1-0 loss to the New York Metrostars. Fun fact: Columbus gave up at least one goal in every match that he started.

The Northern Ireland international played 22 matches for Watford in the Premier League during the 1999/2000 season. The aggressive defender left the league with one goal, six yellow cards and one red. Once Watford was relegated at the season’s end, he spent his time in the lower divisions of English soccer.

Juergen Sommer – 1998-1999 – Goalkeeper

Premier League matches played: 33

Crew matches played: 30

Sommer made his Crew debut on March 29, 1998, in a 2-1 loss to the Dallas Burn. He was the club’s goalkeeper for 30 games that season, including the painful 1998 U.S. Open Cup Final extra-time loss to the Fire. That loss was Sommer’s last between the pipes for Columbus.

The goalkeeper transferred to the Crew from then Premier League side Queens Park Rangers. Sommer played in 33 matches for QPR in the 1995/96 campaign that left them relegated to the then Football League First Division.

Soccer - FA Carling Premiership - Sheffield United v Everton - Bramall Lane
The Polish Rifle with Everton. Look at that mustache
Photo by Tony Marshall/EMPICS via Getty Images

Robert Warzycha – 1996-2002 – Winger

Premier League matches played: 49

Crew matches played: 157

Warzycha left his mark on Columbus, spending almost 20 years with the club. While he wasn’t on the team for the inaugural match in 1996, Warzycha played 20 games that season, scoring two goals and registering six assists. Until his retirement in 2002, Warzycha scored 19 times and assisted in 41 goals for the Crew. Columbus fans fondly called him the Polish Rifle for his free kicks prowess.

After his playing career, Warzycha moved to the coaching staff, assisting with the Crew until 2005 when he filled as interim manager until Sigi Schmid was hired. Warzycha stayed with the club as assistant to Schmid until he was hired to replace Sigi after the 2008 season. As the manager of the Crew, Warzycha led the club to a Supporters Shield in 2009. He ended his career as Crew manager with a 78-45-75 record.

Warzycha spent his entire Premier League career with Everton F.C., from August 1991 until his final match on January 1, 1994. During his stint with Everton, Warzycha scored three and assisted once. He played for Everton as the English First Division rebranded to the Premier League in the 1992/93 season. With the change, he became the first Polish-born goal scorer in EPL history.

John Harkes – 2001-2002 – Midfielder

Premier League matches played: 51

Columbus matches played: 29

Harkes spent two seasons near the end of his career with the Crew, making 29 regular season and two postseason appearances. While he didn’t score a goal, the midfield veteran did register five Black & Gold assists.

Widely known for off-field drama with the United States Men’s National Team, Harkes most notably being dropped within weeks of the start of the 1998 World Cup for having an affair with teammate Eric Wynalda’s wife. On the field, he played most of his career with D.C. United, winning two MLS Cups, one Supporters Shield and one U.S. Open Cup.

Harkes’ Premier League tenure stretches across three different clubs, with 37 of his 51 matches coming with Sheffield Wednesday. In those appearances, Harkes scored three goals combined in the 1991/92 and 1992/93 seasons. He was part of the transition of the first tier to the Premier League with Wednesday. After his time in Sheffield, Harkes hopped between the First Division and EEPL, mostly in sporadic substitutions and appearances with West Ham United and Nottingham Forest.

Stern John – 1998-1999 – Forward

Premier League matches played: 63

Crew matches played: 70

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Birmingham City v Sunderland - St Andrews
Stern John with Sunderland
Photo by David Davies - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

John’s time with Columbus was short but full of quality. In his two seasons with the Crew, the forward scored 55 goals across all competitions. In 1998, Jon was the MLS scoring champion (replaced by the Golden Boot award) with 57 points, the second-highest total in the trophy’s history from 1996 to 2004. At the end of the 1999 season, John departed for England where he stayed for 10 of his almost 20-year playing career.

His time in the Premier League came after a stint in the Championship between 2000 and 2002. In the 2002/03 season, John began a three-year run with Birmingham City. John scored only nine goals in 59 appearances over the 2002/03 and 2003/04 seasons and 10 overall in his time in England’s top flight. In the 2007/08, John scored in a 32-minute substitution appearance for Sunderland, his only appearance with the club. Overall, he spent most of his time in professional soccer in the English Championship.

For anyone who wants Crew-EPL trivia, John played against Gregg Berhalter’s Crystal Palace in August of 2001 in the English First Division and scored twice on the defender in a 4-2 win.

The Many

Toronto FC v Columbus Crew SC
Emmanuel Pogatetz during his time in Columbus

Emmanuel Pogatetz – 2014-2015 – Defender

Premier League matches played: 116

Crew matches played: 21

Emmanuel “Mad Dog” Pogatetz came to the club at the end of the 2014 season, coming off the bench twice. In 2015, he started the season as the club’s center back opposite then-captain Michael Parkhurst. Come July, Pogatetz was moved to the bench and dealt with a knee injury that kept him on the sidelines. He would only see the field for 12 minutes across two appearances towards the end of the 2015 campaign.

Pogatetz spent much of his career in the Premier League with Middlesbrough F.C., earning 110 appearances. During his time there, Pogatetz suffered broken facial bones and eventually earned the captain’s armband, but he may be remembered most for one tackle. In a League Cup match against Manchester United, Pogatetz went for the ball and broke the leg of Rodrigo Possebon. Possebon was carted off the field. In response to the challenge, legendary United boss Alex Ferguson said: “It was an absolutely terrible tackle. Pogatetz should have just walked off the field.” He was shown a red card for the challenge and received a subsequent three-match ban.

The Austrian-born defender’s career spans over 20 years and he still plays today in the second tier of the Austrian Bundesliga.

Ian Woan – 2001 – Midfielder

Premier League matches played: 139

Crew matches played: 3

When you think of the Crew, Woan is probably not the first name that comes to mind. The English midfielder came to the Black & Gold right at the end of the Tom Fitzgerald era in Columbus. Fitzgerald brought him to MLS and once the coach left the club, Woan struggled to find a spot in the lineup. In his three Crew matches, Woan had two shots and committed four fouls in a total of 41 minutes on the field.

For what Woan lacks in Crew history, he makes up for in his time with Nottingham Forest of the Premier League. With Forest, he was known by fans as having a knack for big-match goals. While scoring 21 times in 139 matches, two came in the the FA Cup. Woan scored two free kick goals to earn a draw against Tottenham Hotspurs. In the replay match, he scored one of three goals that led Forest to advance in the tournament. He can still be found in the EPL today, as the assistant manager for Burnley F.C.

The Legends

Brian McBride – 1996-2004 – Forward

Premier League matches played: 148

Crew matches played: 162

San Jose Earthquakes v Columbus Crew
Brian McBride being inducted into the Crew’s Circle of Honor
Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

What can be written about McBride that hasn’t already been written on Massive Report? The first-overall pick in the first MLS Draft is a club staple. With the Crew, McBride scored 71 career goals across all competitions. When looking at the Black & Gold record books, he’s near the top in goals and multi-goal games.

His time in Major League Soccer wasn’t without some supporter strife. Upon returning from his time in England, McBride joined the Fire and nearly knocked the Crew out of the 2008 playoffs. For a few seasons, Columbus supporters were angry at McBride for joining the club’s Midwest rival. The anger at his decision didn’t last and in 2011 he was the first player inducted in the Crew’s Circle of Honor.

McBride replicated his MLS success in the Premier League. It started with two short loan stints, one to lower-tiered Preston North End and then his EPL debut on January 12, 2003, with Everton. That day, he scored a goal and then scored four in eight matches with the club. Upon returning from his time with Everton, McBride played the 2003 season with Columbus until his January move to Fulham F.C.

On January 31, 2004, McBride scored the game-winning goal in his debut with Fulham as a second half substitute. This first impression set the stage for his success with the London club. The Crew legend played 151 matches with Fulham across all competitions. He was named player of the season twice in that time and in August of 2007, was named the team’s captain. On August 18th, while scoring a goal, McBride dislocated his left kneecap, causing him to miss 20 matches of the 2007/08 season. He returned in February of 2008 and played every match for the remainder of the year.

In December of that season, Fulham was in 19thplace, a spot that would see the team relegated to the Championship. Because of Brian McBride’s impact, scoring three goals in the last nine matches, he was praised as a club hero. In 2009, a bar at Fulham’s Craven Cottage stadium was renamed after the U.S. Soccer legend. McBride has the third most appearances in the Premier League of any American man, behind former Fulham teammate Clint Dempsey and the last name on this list.

Brad Friedel – 1996-1997 – Goalkeeper

Premier League matches played: 450

Crew matches played: 45

Blackburn’s US goalkeeper Brad Friedel
Friedel in his time with Blackburn Rovers
Photo credit should read GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images

Friedel started for the Crew near the end of the 1996 season, losing only one of the nine regular season matches he started. Friedel played 32 games for Columbus the next season, including four playoff starts before his time in MLS came to an end. The Lakewood, Ohio native then started a long EPL career, beginning with Liverpool F.C.

It was difficult for Friedel to breakthrough at first. In three Premier League seasons with Liverpool, he started only 24 matches. He then found his place at his next Premier League stop: Blackburn Rovers. Friedel debuted with the Rovers on November 18th, 2000, and never looked back. In 2002, he led the club to an English League Cup trophy.

August 14th, 2004 is an important day in the career of the former Crew goalkeeper because it was when his Premier League record of 310 consecutive match starts streak began. The record stretched from his time at Blackburn to Aston Villa and then Tottenham Hotspurs. He started all his team’s Premier League matches until October 7th, 2012.

For securing the club a trophy and keeping Blackburn in the EPL, Friedel was inducted into the Blackburn Rovers Hall of Fame in 2019. The Premier League U.S. legend found careers after goalkeeping with soccer commentary and was recently the manager of the New England Revolution until May of 2019.