by John Furgele
They were the best team in Major League Soccer all year and now the Columbus Crew have their first MLS championship to prove it. The Crew defeated the New York Red Bulls 3-1 to capture the league title at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California.
For the New York Red Bulls, their magical run ends in the championship game. The Bulls went just 10-11-9 and backed into the playoffs, but it was there where they shined. They knocked out two time defending champion Houston Dynamo in the Western semifinals, then held on to beat Real Salt Lake 1-0 in the Western final. And, for the first 33 minutes of MLS Cup, they dominated what appeared to be a slower and more lethargic Crew. But, this is soocer and things can turn on a dime and in the 34th minute, Alejandro Moreno booted one into the left corner of the net to give the Crew a 1-0 halftime lead.
New York tied the game at 1-1 on a John Wolyniec goal in the 51st minute and it looked like the Red Bulls might get their form back, but just two minutes later, Columbus would score the game winner. Game MVP Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s corner kick found the head of Chad Marshall to give the Crew the decisive goal before more than 27,000 sun bathed fans at the Home Depot Center. Schelotto would set up Frankie Hejduck’s game clinching goal in the 82nd minute.
Both Columbus and New York were charter franchises when the MLS began play in 1996, but for both, it was their first time in the championship game. New York, born as ther Metrostars, have had 11 coaches in just 13 years.