The team that launched the second era of Major League Soccer is headed to its first MLS Cup. In a raucous Columbus Crew Stadium, which when unveiled in 1999 set off a succession of
soccer-specific facilities that have redefined the league's existence, the home team erased a 1-0 Chicago lead for a 2-1 win that secured a spot in the championship game Nov. 23.
and Eddie Gaven
scored six minutes apart early in the second half to erase a deficit inflicted by a header from ex-Crew forward Brian
, and Columbus held that 2-1 lead for 35 minutes with tough tackling and a pair of good saves from keeper Will Hesmer
Four times during the regular
season the Crew had surrendered the first goal yet rallied to win, a mark unmatched by any other MLS team. By stepping up its pressure in the offensive half of the field it won a free kick that
Guillermo Barros Schelotto
floated for Marshall to head home, and triggered a mixup among Fire defenders that Columbus exploited when Eddie Gaven
knockdown from Alejandro Moreno
and drilled a shot that skipped inside the far post.
Chicago, unfazed by a loud, rabid crowd swathed in black and gold, unbalanced Columbus
in the first half by cohesive defending and consistent possession. Hesmer saved a shot from Justin Mapp
as the Crew scrapped their way back into the game, and midway through the half
Marshall headed a chance wide and Schelotto clipped the top of the crossbar with a free kick.
Chicago scored in the 29th minute with the Crew defense reforming and right back
appealing to referee Terry Vaughn
after being knocked down by Cuauhtemoc Blanco
as they vied for the ball. Blanco tossed a barely
legal throw-in up the left side for Mapp to float a superb first-time cross that McBride soared over Danny O'Rourke
to glance into the net.
The goal silenced Crew
fans, many of whom had taunted McBride -- the heart and soul of the franchise during its first eight seasons -- with chants of "Traitor!" A small section of Fire fans celebrated wildly and
set off red flares that spread smoke throughout the stadium and cast yet another dramatic element onto a memorable scene.
Columbus ended the half a goal down, but came out for the second
half more pumped up than perhaps Chicago thought possible. Gaven won a free kick on the right side in the 49th minute and Schelotto's swerving ball curved for Marshall to nod firmly past Fire
keeper Jon Busch
, another ex-Crew player who had been Marshall's roommate when they played together.
Chicago tried to stabilize the match and regain some rhythm, but
with Chris Rolfe
stymied and Blanco off his game, it couldn't keep the ball long enough. Brian Carroll
controlled central midfield and with Robbie
and Gaven, especially, tracking back, Columbus controlled the flanks.
Gaven got his reward for an excellent all-around display in the 55th minute. Schelotto returned a pass
from Moreno, and Moreno headed down a ball for Gaven to run onto, touch once, and hit on the bounce past Busch. A deafening roar greeted the goal, the Crew bench erupted in celebration, and scenes of
near-delirium envisioned by the late Lamar Hunt
, who spearheaded construction of the stadium, ensued everywhere except for a tiny section of fans in red.
a hard shot from Rogers to keep Chicago in the game. Hesmer smothered a close-range re-direction from McBride with 17 minutes left, and in the final minute of regulation substitute Marco
, fresh off the bench, fired a low shot Hesmer covered cleanly. In stoppage-time, Pappa found a shot again but fired it wide.
On four previous occasions the Crew had played
for the conference title, and always it had fallen short. The final whistle triggered a frenzied celebration on the field and bedlam in the stands. What was once billed as "America's
Hardest-Working Team" had taken one more step toward being honored as the best. MLS SEMIFINAL
Nov. 12 in Columbus, Ohio
Columbus 2 Chicago 1.
Marshall (Schelotto) 49, Gaven (Moreno, Schelotto) 55; McBride (Mapp) 30. Columbus --
Hesmer, Hejduk, Padula, Marshall, O'Rourke, Gaven (Ito, 88), Carroll, Evans, Rogers,
Schelotto (Ekpo, 81), Moreno. Chicago --
Busch, Prideaux (Nyarko, 70), Conde, Segares (Banner, 79), Soumare, Rolfe (Pappa, 90), Pause, Thorrington, Mapp, F- Blanco, McBride. Yellow cards -
Columbus -- O'Rourke 55, Hesmer 90+; Chicago --Soumare 22, Seagares 48, Prideaux 67. Att.: