Columbus Crew 1998
1998 Club by Club
As the 1998 season approached, the Crew's offseason was highlighted by player movement and the anticipation of plans for a new stadium.
Perhaps the biggest change was star goalkeeper Brad Friedel's departure to Liverpool of the English Premier League. More than adequate replacements were found though, as U.S. National Team goalkeeper Juergen Sommer was lured from his English club team, Queens Park Rangers, and Mark Dougherty, MLS's all-time wins leader entering the 1998 season, was brought in from Tampa Bay.
In addition to player movement, the Crew's search for a stadium of its own continued to be a hot topic and a high priority. In May of 1997, the Crew witnessed the fall of Issue 1, a Franklin County proposal that would have provided the team with a downtown home. Then, on Feb. 10, 1998, City of Dublin voters rejected a proposal that would have provided a home for the Crew in their suburban community.
With renovations at Ohio Stadium scheduled to begin after the 1998 season, "America's Hardest Working Team" was confronting its biggest challenge to date: finding a new home for 1999. So the most exciting news of 1998 had to be when the Ohio Expositions Commission voted 6-2 to approve the land lease for a soccer-specific stadium on the grounds of the Ohio Expo Center on May 12. The new stadium site cleared its last hurdle when then-Governor George Voinovich gave the project his stomp of approval on June 9. The Crew and its fans would finally have a home to call their own.
Plans for the site were officially unveiled on July 7 and the groundbreaking on August 14 featured then-MLS Commissioner Doug Logan, who announced that the Crew would host not only the MLS All-Star Game in 2000, but the MLS Cup in 2001.
On the field, another new mix of players would prove vital to the team's success in 1998, with the most significant addition being Stern John, a Trinidad & Tobago star who captured A-League Rookie of the Year honors in 1997. The Crew was well represented at the 1998 World Cup in France, placing five players in the world's largest sporting event. Thomas Dooley, Brian McBride, Juergen Sommer and Brian Maison-neuve were all named to the U.S. National Team, while then-Crew midfielder Andy Williams played for his native Jamaica.
Dooley captained the American squad, while McBride headed home the U.S.'s lone goal of the competition in a 2-1 loss to Iron. The Crews contributions to France'98 meant Columbus had to rely heavily on its depth, as the international players trained for and traveled to France through the heart of the Crew's MLS schedule. In their absence, Columbus went 3-4, with two of the losses coming via shootouts, and managed to slay in third place. Using an array of lineups, the Crew eventually overlook the MetroStars for second place with a 3-0 victory over L.A. on Aug. 29. The team would make a charge for first, before settling for a second place finish, which secured home-field advantage in the playoffs for the first time.
Crew players also excelled on an individual basis in 1998, including Budweiser Scoring Champion Stern John, who emerged from the pack with a late-season explosion to finish the season with a league-high 57 points on 26 goals and five assists. Playing in his third straight MLS All-Star Game, McBride claimed the game's MVP award, notching one goal and adding two assists for the USA All-Stars in the first-half Following the All-Star game, McBride again displayed his knack for spectacular finishes by taking home the MasterCard Goal of the Year award for his acrobatic sidewinding full-volley goal in a 3-0 win over Chicago July 9 at Ohio Stadium.
Much like the regular season, the 1998 playoffs provided Crew fans with plenty of excitement. Columbus swept the MetroStars in the first round, completing the sweep in dramatic fashion when Juergen Sommer knocked away the final shootout attempt to give the Crew a 2-1 victory on the road at Giants Stadium. In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Crew met a familiar foe in two-time defending MLS champ D.C. United. After falling in the opening game, Columbus returned home for the last MLS game ever played at Ohio Stadium. A torrential downpour failed to dampen the crowd's enthusiasm or bog down the Crew offense, as McBride exploded for his second two-goal game of the playoffs. Columbus cruised too 4-2 victory, snapping United's MLS-record 13-game playoff win streak and forcing the series lo a decisive third game in the process. But United would prevail in Game 3, riding the momentum of a raucous RFK Stadium crowd of over 20,000 to a 3-0 win.
Yet another 1998 storyline was the Crew's run in the U.S. Open Cup. After advancing to the final through preliminary round games during the summer, the championship match against the Chicago Fire in Virginia Beach was postponed because of Hurricane Bonnie. The match was rescheduled for Oct. 30 at Soldier Field in Chicago. On a soggy night in the Windy City, the Crew was welcomed by nearly 19,000 fans waiting to welcome home their newly crowned MLS champions. A valiant Crew effort would fall just short, when the Fire's Frank Klopas scored the game-winner in sudden-death overtime, giving Chicago a 2-1 win and ending the Crew's 1998 campaign.