The countdown of Massive Report’s 15 most memorable moments in Crew Stadium history continues based on voting from the staff. Join the discussion on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using the hashtag #MRStadium.
The Columbus Crew went the first six years of the team’s existence without winning a championship. The Black & Gold suffered bitter MLS Cup playoff defeats to D.C. United in three of the first four seasons and lost in the 1998 U.S. Open Cup Final to MLS expansion side Chicago Fire after the game was moved to Soldier Field, the Fire’s home stadium.
But on Oct. 24, 2002, the championship-less drought ended. The Crew defeated the LA Galaxy 1-0 in the Open Cup final to lift the team’s first trophy. It came after an interesting run to the championship game, with the Black & Gold handling A-League side Richmond Kickers 3-0 in the third round before a tight 2-1 affair against the New York/New Jersey Metrostars. In the semifinals, the Crew fought back from 2-0 down against the Kansas City Wizards to force extra time before sealing their place in the final with a 3-2 win.
The game itself, played in front of a sparse crowd at Crew Stadium, was not among the most riveting soccer ever displayed by Columbus. Taking on the defending Open Cup champions, who just four days earlier won the MLS Cup against the New England Revolution, on a cold October night, Greg Andrulis’ side went out knowing they had a challenge on their hands but also recognized the opportunity.
It was a physical affair from the offing, as eight minutes into the game, goalkeeper Jon Busch took an elbow from Galaxy striker Carlos Ruiz. Then LA right back and current Crew assistant coach Ezra Hendrickson answered the challenge on both sides of the ball, dealing with forward Jeff Cunningham on one end while pushing up the field on the other to help the visitors create chances.
The first major chance of the first half went to the Galaxy in the 26th minute. Busch had to come off his line to deny a wide open Chris Albright on a ball played to the back post. Midfielder Simon Elliott was then denied by a sliding defender on the same play before Albright’s second chance was again saved by Busch.
After spending most of the first half attempting to find the head of forward Brian McBride on crosses and set pieces, it was Guatemalan midfielder Freddy Gracia who forever etched his name into the Crew history books in the 30th minute. A low cross from winger Brian West was deflected back out by LA goalkeeper Matt Reis to avoid the ball being tapped home by McBride. But Garcia was just outside the six-yard box to tuck home the opening goal and give the Black & Gold a 1-0 first half advantage.
The home side fed off the momentum of the goal for the remainder of the half, looking to strike on the counter attack. But the final pass continued to elude Columbus in a push to double the lead before the break.
There was some disjointed play out of the locker room for both teams in the opening minutes of the second half. The Crew finally had another good chance to score when Cunningham sprang West down the right side but his ball across the face of the goal this time only found a Galaxy defender.
Tensions continued to rise as a frustrated Ruiz failed to get his normal service from his LA teammates. The Columbus defenders, however, would not back down from MLS’s leading scorer in 2002.
As the half wore on, it was Busch and the Black & Gold defense that continued to make plays and keep the clean sheet as the home team looked to again hit on the counter.
The Galaxy nearly found an equalizer in the 79th minute when creative midfielder Mauricio Cienfuegos floated a ball to the back post for Elliott. The future Crew holding midfielder, however, saw his contested header float wide of the post.
Heading into the final 10 minutes, the hero of the game up to that point, Garcia, suffered an injury after banging knees with defender Danny Califf and had to come out of the match.
In the 83rd minute, the Black & Gold were reduced to 10 men when hot-headed defender Chad McCarty kicked Sasha Victorine and picked up his second yellow card, and therefore a red card, of the game. This meant the Columbus defense had to buckle down for the final few minutes. From there it was rush after rush of LA attacks.
The final dramatic moment came in stoppage time after Busch made a save on a Ruiz shot from outside the penalty box. Future Crew champion Alejandro Moreno got on the rebound and pushed the ball beyond the goalkeeper. Fortunately, second half substitute Robert Warzycha was there to clear the ball and prevent the tying goal.
As fans in the stands pleaded with the referee for the final whistle, the Galaxy launched the ball forward, hoping for one last chance. Busch came out on a cross to punch the ball away and finally, the three whistles sounded.
1-0 Crew. Columbus had a champion.
While the 2008 and 2020 MLS Cup wins will forever be remembered, there’s nothing like a team’s first championship. If you were there on that cold October night, you likely have great memories of Black & Gold originals such as McBride, Warzycha, Mike Clark and Brian Maisonneuve celebrating on the stage at midfield, lifting the team’s first trophy.
Read Massive Report’s previous Crew Stadium Moments