The Columbus Crew will be making its first appearance in the MLS Cup finals after two second-half goals lifted the black and gold past the Chicago Fire 2-1 in the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday.
“It’s something we’ve done all season, we are a team that is very resilient,” coach Sigi Schmid said of coming back from behind.
The game-winning goal came in the 54th minute after a combination of headers from Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Alejandro Moreno found a streaking Eddie Gaven down the right side. Gaven volleyed home a shot into the lower left corner beating former Crew goalkeeper Jon Busch.
It was only fitting that Fire forward Brian McBride, who spent eight seasons showcasing his talents in a Crew uniform, scored the first goal of the game for his hometown team in the 29th minute. McBride got his head on a cross from midfielder Justin Mapp and flicked the ball over Crew goalkeeper William Hesmer to put the Fire up 1-0.
McBride received a frosty reception as the crowd of 14,688 booed him every time he touched the ball. McBride said he will always root for the Crew when they are not playing the Fire.
The Crew notched the equalizer in the 49th minute when Chad Marshall headed a Schelotto free kick past Busch. Marshall beat McBride to the ball and sent it to the upper ninety, kissing the crossbar on its way into goal.
“It was good to get one back since he [McBride] got one on us,” Marshall said . “It was a good ball and I was able to time it right.”
At the beginning of the season many did not expect the Crew to make the MLS playoffs, but after compiling the best record in the regular season, the Crew claimed the Supporters’ Shield trophy and along with it the No. 1 playoff spot.
Thursday’s game marked the first time the Crew have played in the Eastern Conference final since 2002 when they lost to the New England Revolution in a three game series. D.C. United eliminated the Crew in three consecutive Eastern Conference finals game from 1997-99.
“It’s great for this city and great for this franchise to get over this hurdle,” Schmid said . “There is only one piece of hardware we haven’t got this year.”
Captain Frankie Hejduk, playing his sixth season, has been here for the highs and lows of the Crew and said he believes Columbus is due for a title.
“This city deserves a championship,” he said.
The Crew’s opponent will be determined on Saturday when the New York Red Bulls take on Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference final. The MLS Cup takes place on Sunday, Nov. 23 at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.