2003 Club by Club
The 2003 season will be remembered, among other reasons, for being Brian McBride's and Mike Clark's last in Black & Gold. On the field, an improbable succession of injuries and national team call-ups to key players turned an extremely promising start into a disappointing season. In the end, the Crew missed the playoffs for just the second time in club history.
That was in stark contrast to the optimistic opening weeks of the season, when the key offseason additions of World Cup veteran Frankie Hejduk and All-Star midfielder Ross Paule to an already formidable lineup appeared to be paying dividends. The Crew advanced to the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions Cup and was the talk of MLS in bolting to a 3-0-1 start in league play. But, ultimately, the Crew's "Big Four" of McBride, Hejduk, goalkeeper Jon Busch and midfielder Kyle Martino, were able to start just 16 of the team's 30 games together. With them all in the starting lineup, the Crew went 7-4-5, but was 3-8-3 with any of them missing. With forward Edson Buddle added to that equation, the "Big Four" plus Buddle only started 11 times together. The club's record with those five was a gaudy 6-2-3, but just 4-10-5 without one or more of them in the lineup.
Another key player, forward Jeff Cunningham, battled through his own share of nagging injuries, but he did manage to reach a major milestone, becoming the 14th player in MLS history to reach the 50-goal plateau. The most dramatic moment of the season was provided by McBride and it is sure to remain among the most lasting images he left with Crew fans. Sidelined with a respiratory virus in the must-win, next-to-last game of the season at D.C., McBride came off the bench in the 62nd minute and proceeded to score two goals, including the game-winner in the final minute of overtime, to give Columbus a dramatic 3-2 win and keep the club's playoff hopes alive for another week.
During the offseason, McBride, the personification of the Crew since its inception, was transferred lo Fulham F.C. of the English Premier League, while Clark, another Crew original, announced his retirement, signaling the end of one era and the dawn of a new one.