2002 Club by Club
Major changes at the league level ushered in 2002. The MLS Board of Governors voted unanimously to cut the league by two teams on Jan. 8. following a comprehensive strategic review of the league's operations, and the Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny ceased operations immediately. MLS returned to a 10-team, two-conference alignment, with the Crew reentering the Eastern Conference. Those changes, made with the league's long-term strength and stability in mind, followed the announcement in Dec. 6, 2001 that MLS investors committed lo funding and operating the league for the next five years, through the 2006 season.
But for Crew fans, 2002 will go down in history as the year their beloved Black & Gold finally won a championship. On October 24, the Crew defeated the newly crowned MLS Cup-champion L.A. Galaxy, 1-0, in the U.S. Open Cup final at Crew Stadium, to claim the prestigious piece of hardware. The U.S. Open Cup is the oldest soccer tournament in America.
Freddy Garcia's 30th-minute goal and Jon Busch's four-save shutout brought glory to Columbus. With the Open Cup title came a berth in the 2003 CONCACAF Champions Cup. The Crew had advanced to the final in dramatic and improbable fashion, coming back from a two-goal deficit midway through the second half to defeat the Kansas City Wizards 3-2 in overtime at Crew Stadium in the semifinals.
Edson Buddle got Columbus on the board in the 76th minute and second-half substitute John Wilmar Perez scored the game-tying goal two minutes into second-half stoppage time, then banged in the winner 18 minutes into overtime. Following an up-and-down 11-12-5 regular season, the Crew peaked at the right time, sweeping the defending champions San Jose Earthquakes in the MLS Cup quarterfinals and advancing to the league semifinals for the fourth time in seven seasons, but for the first time since 1999. The Black & Gold ultimately fell in three games to New England.
Dazzling forward Jeff Cunningham established new career highs in goals (116) and points (37) and was named to the MLS Pepsi Best 11, while young midfielder Kyle Martino was a revelation, winning the league's Rookie of the Year Award, a first for a Crew player.
While Brian McBride was in Korea/Japan helping the U.S. to an unexpected quarterfinal finish at the 2002 FIFA World Cup, more than 27,000 people flocked to Crew Stadium to view the televised action at "Cup Headquarters." Over 7,500 fans were on hand for the U.S.'s quarterfinal match vs. Germany and the success of 'Cup Headquarters" garnered national media attention, including a feature in the June 11, edition of USA Today, live mentions by ESPN play- by-play announcers Jack Edwards and JP Dellacamera during different matches, and prominent mentions, accompanied by video footage, on the June 17 edition of ESPN2's nightly news and highlight show "World Cup 2Night." In addition to the huge crowd on June 21, the U.S.-Germany viewing party was attended by cameras from CBS's "The Early Show," which also sent a correspondent; ABC's Good Morning America," and NBC's "Today Show," both of which did live look-ins throughout the match.
The 2002 season also saw it's shore of milestones, as longtime Crew stalwarts Mark Dougherty, Todd Yeagley, Mike Lapper and Robert Warzycha all retired, while veteran forwards McBride and Dante Washington both reached the 50-goal plateau for their MLS careers.