2001 Club by Club
The Crew's sixth season was marked in the early going by just the second coaching change in club history, but that change sparked a major turnaround which propelled Columbus back into the MLS Cup playoffs after a one-year absence.
The Crew was full of optimism entering the season, adopting the motto "Destiny 2001" as a rallying cry to reach MLS Cup 2001, which would be played at Crew Stadium on Oct. 21. New arrivals Tom Presthus, a championship goalkeeper acquired in a draft-day trade with D.C. United, Tenywa Bonseu, a Ugandan international defender acquired via Allocation, and 2002 MLS SuperDraft picks Duncan Oughlon and Edson Buddle joined a solid returning nucleus to fuel the optimism.
But following a 1-3-2 start, which made its record 1-8-2 in its last 11 matches stretching back lo the end of the 2000 season, the Crew dismissed head coach Tom Fitzgerald - who had been at the helm since Aug. 1996 - and replaced him on an interim basis with his top assistant, Greg Andrulis on May 17. Two nights later, on May 19, the Andrulis era commenced with a bang at Crew Stadium, though the new coach could hardly have imagined that his debut would turn out to be one of the most dramatic games in Crew history. With old rival D.C. United in town, Brian McBride gave Columbus a 1-0 lead in the 25th minute, energizing the crowd of 18,491. The Crew maintained its advantage into the second half, but that's when the wheels appeared to fall off. Two red-card ejections in a span of eight minutes - Ansil Elcock in the 59th minute and Bonseu in the 67th - had Columbus reeling. And D.C. did indeed equalize just two minutes after the second ejection. Columbus dug in from there though, and in epic fashion forced overtime, where Jeff Cunningham one-timed John Harkes' corner kick past United keeper Mike Ammann from the middle of the box in the 99th minute. That golden goal with a minute left in overtime, 32 minutes into a two-man disadvantage, capped the most improbable victory in Crew history and charted a remarkable course for the club that would see it go 12-4-4 in 20 games under Andrulis to finish 13-7-6.
Along the way, the Crew fashioned a nine-game unbeaten streak, going 7-0-2 between July 4 and Aug. 19, went unbeaten in its last 11 regular-season home games (7-0-4), matched its all-time high point total (45 in six fewer games and experienced a 13.3 percent rise in attendance (to 17511 per game). Individually, forward Jeff Cunningham had a superlative season, becoming the first player in Crew history to record double-figure totals in both goals (10) and assists (13) and setting a new club mark with an eight-game point streak, while playmaking midfielder John Wilmar Perez dished out a then-team-record and league-lead-tying 15 assists. The return of midfielder Brian Maison-neuve was also a key factor in the Crew's turnaround. After missing the entire 2000 season with a series of devastating ankle injuries and surgeries, Madison-neuve made a remarkable comeback in 2001, getting stronger and stronger as the season progressed and ultimately being named the MLS Player of the Month for August.
Like every other team in the league, the regular season ended abruptly for the Crew, when the final week was cancelled in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. That left Columbus two games shy of completing the 28-game season, which had been adopted for the first time in 2001.
The Crew entered the playoffs as the No. 4 seed end was drawn against the fifth-seeded San Jose Earthquakes, who sported an identical 13-7-6 record. Unfortunately for Andrulis' troops, they ran into a team peaking at the right time and the Quakes used their 2 games to 0 (6 points to 0) series win as a springboard to their first MLS Cup title, which they won at Crew Stadium over the L.A. Galaxy in overtime. At the conclusion of the season, Andrulis was rewarded with a two-year contract extension and General Manager Jim Smith was named the MLS Executive of the Year.