Top 50 MLS Cup Moments: #13 Homecoming King
|Columbus 3||New York 1|
|Did You Know?|
|Frankie Hejduk was twice named Man of the Match for Bayer Leverkusen in their 1999-2000 UEFA Champions League campaign, while appearing in five of their six group-stage matches.|
#13: Homecoming King (2008)
Championship games are about special moments – great goals, great saves, hoisting trophies and celebrating wildly.
They’re also, very occasionally, about homecomings. D.C. United had the ultimate homecoming in 1997, when they won the Cup in front of 50,000 of their own fans at a packed RFK Stadium.
But on an individual level, nobody’s homecoming quite matches that of Frankie Hejduk with the 2008 Columbus Crew. Hejduk, a Southern California boy and one of the most colorful characters in MLS and US soccer history, captained that Crew side to the final at the Home Depot Center, just up the road from where he grew up in San Diego.
“It was an incredible year, and for me, personally, it just ended on the perfect high note – being able to come back to LA, where all my friends and family are, to get the job done there was just incredible,” Hejduk explains. “To be honest, it couldn’t have worked out any better.”
The Crew won that final 3-1 over the New York Red Bulls, and Hejduk put the cherry on top with the game’s final goal in the 82nd minute. It was a Hollywood ending for the right back, who was a big part of the Columbus attack that year with his overlapping, touchline-to-touchline runs, but who rarely got on the scoreboard himself.
“I was ecstatic for Frankie,” says then-Crew coach Sigi Schmid, who also coached a young Hejduk during the defender's three seasons at UCLA. “When he was with me at UCLA, he wasn’t able to win then and he hadn’t won anything in MLS at that point either.
"How many championships do you get a chance to play for in your career? You know he’s getting older and he’s not going to have many more opportunities. For us, that team, for him and guys like [Guillermo Barros] Schelotto, you knew this was gonna be a special moment. Frankie always gives everything he has, and you could tell this was it.”
The goal came from the typical Crew mix that year: brilliant vision and touch from Schelotto, and a double dose of hard work off the ball. Hejduk’s darting overlap caught the Red Bulls flat-footed – they had keyed on forward Alejandro Moreno’s unselfish diagonal run instead. Schelotto somehow spotted Hejduk and chipped a ball just over Kevin Goldthwaite, lofting it directly into Hejduk’s run for the right back to nod over ‘keeper Danny Cepero.
“It’s a play that takes place on the right side,” Schelotto recounts. “Eddie Gaven gives me the ball and I see Frankie Hejduk streak in behind [Gaven]. I took advantage of his speed, and then he finishes with his head. But we all teased him afterwards because he never scored, and that year he scored twice against New York, in the regular season and in the final.”
Hejduk will gladly take a bit of teasing to go with the goal, especially since it more or less sealed the Crew’s win.
“I’ve made that run thousands of times in my career, and a lot of people always questioned, ‘Why’s he making that run? He doesn’t need to make that run.’” Hejduk says today of the play “And at that point in the game, too – you’re trying to kill the game off and you’ve got the right back flying forward, it may not be the best thing to do in a coach’s mind. But for me, never having too much of a reward for doing it, that was the icing on the cake.
“I still don’t know what I was doing up there at that point in the game, but I guess some things are meant to be, and that was one of those things.”
That work ethic – the willingness to make runs you’ve made 1,000 times before, just on the chance that you’d open up space for yourself or another attacker – was shared by the entire Crew team in 2008.
“We all worked hard – me, Frankie, Gaven, [Robbie] Rogers, [Brad] Evans – because we knew that was the best way to win,” Moreno says. “That’s what that team cared about.”
And that’s what their reward was.
“It was just an incredible mix of players,” Hejduk says. “For all of us, it wasn’t a surprise [to win the Cup]. As the season went on, we were just like, ‘Whoa, this is really something special that we have right here.’ And I think that’s something we saw in the final.”