Crew strikes at critical moments

[MLS CUP 2008] Sunday at Home Depot Center met two of the three original MLS teams never to play for the league title, and Columbus prevailed over the stubborn NewYork Red Bulls, 3-1, to end a five-year run of Supporters' Shield failures in the final. Guillermo Barros Schelotto set an MLS Cup record by assisting on goals by Alejandro Moreno, Chad Marshall and Frankie Hejduk to down New York, which played perhaps its best postseason game at both ends of the field. A goal by John Wolyniec tied the game briefly in the second half, but ultimately New York was cruelly punished for its lapses.

"I told the guys they played with passion and pride and that is the only thing I ask for," said Red Bull coach Juan Carlos Osorio. "We made some technical mistakes but at the end we won together, we lost together and today we lost a match that in the first half at least we should have been one-up instead of one down."

Columbus withstood some early pressure to score a stunning goal against the run of play, and struck back right after conceding an equalizer to join D.C. United (1997, 1999), Kansas City (2000) and Los Angeles (2002) as marathon teams that also won the postseason sprint.

"Some teams are good cup teams and some teams are better over a long season," said coach Sigi Schmid, who won that 2002 title. "In MLS, because of the way the playoffs are set up, the best team during the regular season doesn't always win, but I think we have players who are capable of both." Right he was.

Moreno scored after Schelotto relayed a ball that had nearly rolled over the touchline, and hit a shot New York keeper Danny Cepero admitted he should have saved; Marshall crashed through the goalmouth to head home a corner kick given away cavalierly; and Hejduk raced free to nod in an incredible ball scooped by Schelotto over a teammate and two Red Bulls momentarily tangled up.

"The field was a little spongy, the game was at a weird time [12:50 p.m. Pacific] and it took us a while getting used to that and absorbing their pressure," said Marshall, one of 10 native Southern Californians on the Columbus roster. "Luckily we got that goal against the run of play, or I got that goal against the run of play, and that was huge for us."

Marshall was right in both cases. Moreno's goal came in the 31st minute following a period of New York dominance, and Marshall scored just 87 seconds after Wolyniec equalized in the 51st minute. Hejduk tucked away the clincher with eight minutes left, a fitting exclamation point for the former UCLA player, a veteran of World Cups and winner of Gold Cups who had never played for an MLS Cup.

"Coming into the game I said one of the differences is Hejduk on the overlap," said Osorio. "He overlapped twice, I think, once in the first half, we dealt with it, and the goal. His job today was defending against David van den Bergh and he did well. He's very athletic, he's an international player, and he did well. Credit to him."

New York earned credit for pressuring Columbus and controlling midfield in the opening minutes. Dane Richards scorched Columbus left back Gino Padula and van den Bergh shook free a few times while Luke Sassano and Sinisa Ubiparipovic held sway in the middle, but none of the shots produced by numerous possessions and penetrations hit the frame. Angel volleyed over the bar and Richards veered inside to get a clear shot but it too skied high.

Schelotto released Moreno clear by winning a ball right on the touchline as van den Bergh held up. Moreno ran at defender Diego Jimenez, who jockeyed him wide, so Moreno shot from a 45-degree angle. Cepero dived right and got a glove on the ball but still it snuck inside the side-netting.

"The fact that I got a piece of it tells me I was within range to make the save," said Cepero, the late-season replacement for starter Jon Conway playing just his sixth MLS game. "If I get more of my finger behind it maybe we're having a different conversation."

Said van den Bergh, "I thought the ball was out and maybe the linesman didn't see it. But they scored a goal and that's all that matters."

Richards raced upfield yet again early in the second half and with Juan Pablo Angel luring defenders away with a typically clever run, Wolyniec slipped through to slide a shot past Will Hesmer inside the far post. A minute after the restart, New York gave away a cheap corner, and Marshall escaped his marker to drill home Schelotto's inswinger.

"They started off strong [in the second half] and got the equalizer and we responded great," said midfielder Brian Carroll, who won his second MLS Cup after capturing the title with D.C. United in 2004. "We were able to win a few second balls and maybe settle down a touch, and Frankie did a great job of finishing off the third one."

The man renowned for his skank-dance celebration went for an airplane this time. As he soared toward the sideline, arms outstretched, shaggy surfer's hair flying in the breeze, only the rabid Red Bull corner of the stadium stayed mute as a thunderous roar saluted an incredible goal, a sublime blend of Hejduk's energy and speed, and Schelotto's vision and touch.

Schelotto's feats earned him MLS Cup MVP honors. As a wild locker-room celebration settled down, after Schmid had been doused by three Gatorade buckets of cold water and champagne spray from dozens of bottles, Hejduk paid tribute to yet another individual honored by the league, whose value rose as the Crew inched closer to its first league championship.

"He found the right players once again," said Hedjuk of Schmid, whose contract is about to expire. He hasn't accept terms for a new one. "He was great with us all year, he knew when to back off a little bit and when to push when he had to.

"He's a genius in that aspect and I really hope he stays here. He had a three-year plan to win a title and that's what he did."

MLS CUP 2008
Columbus 3, New York 1.
Moreno (Schelotto) 31, Marshall (Schelotto) 53, Hejduk (Schelotto, Gaven) 82; Wolyniec 2 (Dane Richards) 51.
Columbus -- Hesmer, Hejduk, Marshall, O'Rourke, Padula, Gaven (Lenhart, 93+), Carroll, Evans, Rogers, Schelotto (Iro, 91+), Moreno.
New York -- Cepero, Mendes, Leitch, Goldthwaite, Jimenez, Richards, Sassano (Rojas, 78), Ubiparipovic, van den Bergh, Wolyniec (MKanji, 82), Angel.
Yellow cards: Columbus - Padula 68; New York -- Leitch 4.
Referee: Baldomero Toledo
Att.: 27,000.
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