As we near the kickoff of Columbus Crew SC’s 24th season, I thought a retrospect was in order to review and appreciate the most integral players in team history. With such a look back, we decided to anoint a Crew Mount Rushmore, consisting of the four players who most uniquely personify the embodiment of Columbus Crew soccer.
How does one gain status on the Crew Mount Rushmore, you ask? My criteria is a loose mix of on-field production, accomplishments away from the Crew that enhanced the team, off the field status, and overall lasting legacy. It was a tough process to dwindle it down to only four players, but after much pondering we came to a conclusion.
Before we unveil the fantastic four, how about if we reflect on the journey of Major League Soccer’s original franchise?
The Early Days
In 1996, the inaugural season, saw a rag-tag group of players take the pitch at Ohio Stadium. Future U.S. Men’s National Team superstar and first ever draft pick, Brian McBride, was the linchpin of the squad. Polish international, Robert Warzycha, also became a critical member for the team in the original campaign. His contributions continued with the club for nearly two decades as both a player and coach. Center back Mike Clark, was another foundational player of the teams early years. His solid, workman-like defending spearheaded the teams backline for nearly a decade.
Those late 1990’s seasons saw the rise of soon-to-be international goalkeeping extraordinaire, Brad Friedel. He reached double digit shutouts in a mere season and a half manning the Crew goal. His brief tenure with the club set the standard for goalkeeping in Columbus. Trinidad born striker, Stern John went on to score more than 50 goals in just two seasons with the the Black & Gold. Despite both players massive success, their contributions were too short-lived to earn Mount Rushmore status.
After Friedel embarked on a career in England, the Crew kept their stellar play between the pipes with unheralded goalkeeper, Mark Dougherty. He led the league in goals against average and even pitched a shutout in the first ever game at Crew Stadium in May of 1999. He was also the first MLS goalkeeper to reach 50 wins. Crew regular season goal scoring record holder, Jeff Cunningham joined the squad in 1998 but his ascension from super-sub to regular starter began in 1999. He went on to score 64 goals for the Crew, still a team record.
MLS Cup Champions
Remember when the MLS SuperDraft actually mattered? We do, and so does Chad Marshall. One of the league’s all-time great defenders was drafted by the Crew with the second overall pick in 2004. The 6-foot-4 stalwart became the leader of the Black & Gold defense for 10 seasons.
USMNT veteran, Frankie Hejduk joined the club in 2003 and captained the team for several seasons, leading the squad to its first and only MLS Cup victory in 2008. McBride left for Fulham after the 2003 season, leaving the Crew without a true attacking superstar until 2007, when Guillermo Barros Schelotto made his debut. The crafty Argentine was the motor of Columbus’ attack that won that aforementioned MLS Cup. His ability was wide ranging, as both a master creator and dead ball specialist. For those of you newer Crew fans, think Federico Higuain before Federico Higuain was a thing.
A couple of unsung heroes during the mid-2000’s Columbus teams were midfielder, Eddie Gaven and goalkeeper Will Hesmer. Gaven’s versatility earned him a championship ring and over 200 appearances with the club. Hesmer holds the club record for shutouts with 41 and he is the only starting ‘keeper in team history to bring home an MLS Cup.
This last decade has seen the rise of homegrown product, Wil Trapp, the acquisition of Federico Higuain, and longtime winger, Justin Meram. Trapp is a local player that climbed the ladder from the Crew Academy program, to earning the armband as the senior team’s captain. Higuain picked up where Schelotto left off, becoming the team’s engine and offensive maestro. Meram possesses skill and ability, but his work along the sidelines as winger has garnered him top 10 accolades in both goals and appearances for the Black & Gold.
As mentioned previously, find just four players in the rich history of the club was difficult. Given the cavalcade of quality goalkeepers that have dawned the Crew shield over the years, one not finding their place on the mountain top was somewhat surprising. Ultimately, we decided on four field players that we believe are the pillars and foundation of Columbus Crew soccer. So, without further ado, here is the Massive Report Columbus Crew Mount Rushmore:
The Crew’s first ever draft pick and USMNT superstar. McBride’s ability on the field and willingness to shoulder the brunt of the team’s marketing efforts during the early days were essential for the club to gain stability in the market. He is/was a class act on and off the field and recently returned to play in the Save The Crew match with other former players near Crew Stadium.
Guillermo Barros Schelotto
He lacked the longevity of the other players on this list, as GBS came to Columbus at the twilight of his career, but his achievements were second to none. He enhanced the teammates around him and made the small market club a big time winner.
Entering his eighth season in Columbus, Higuain continues to be the Crew’s engine on the field and its figurehead off of it. He is a phenom on dead balls and can create as well as score within the run of play. He may even take over the regular season goal scoring title from Jeff Cunningham by this seasons end.
Frankie is the team’s brand ambassador today and rightfully so. He was a star on the field with his energetic play and leadership capabilities. A member and team captain of the MLS Cup championship team, Frankie is a high-spirited and energetic person. Those traits were palpable watching him bomb up and down the wing, and continue to be in his current team role today.
Honorable Mention: Robert Warzycha, Jeff Cunningham, Chad Marshall
Well, there you go, Crew fans! What do you think of my Crew Mount Rushmore? Who would be on your Crew monument? What other players should be under consideration? Let us know your thoughts.