Cunningham's record-tying goal long time in the making
On the day Columbus Crew management announced that Brian McBride would be honored at the next home game as the first honoree in the franchise’s Circle of Honor, he was pushed aside in the record book by a surefire future member of that club.
Jeff Cunningham’s 90th-minute goal against 10-man Vancouver on Wednesday at Empire Field not only set the club mark for career goals and tied him with McBride for the points lead, but more importantly, it enabled Cunningham to equal Jaime Moreno’s all-time MLS mark of 133 goals.
And, oh yes, the Crew won 1-0 on Cunningham’s 40th career game-winner.
“It feels awesome,” he said. “I want to thank my teammates, thank the coaching staff and the fans for all the support over the years. This is a milestone that means a lot to me and for everyone that’s been supportive of me throughout my career.”
It was a long wait for Cunningham, whose 63 goals in a Columbus uniform are one better than McBride’s total. They each have 169 points.
“It’s a good night all around for the organization,” said goalkeeper William Hesmer, whose penalty-kick save of Terry Dunfield in the 73rd minute was one of his seven saves on the night. “I’m really happy for Jeff and happy we came out of this road trip with three points.”
Cunningham entered the season needing just one goal to tie Moreno, the retired former D.C. United star, but he had gone 408 minutes in 11 games (three starts) without a score before Wednesday’s match.
That all changed when the Crew (7-5-6, 27 points) took advantage of a red card to Shea Salinas in the 78th minute for his late, studs-up challenge to the shin of defender Josh Gardner. It was the eighth time this season a Crew opponent had been sent off.
Gardner was down for awhile but not out, as he proved on the deciding play. His cross from the just outside the left corner of the penalty area found Cunningham unmarked seven yards in front of the goal. Cunningham put his head on the service and flicked the ball into the back of the net and into the record book.
“This is the longest I’ve gone without scoring,” he said. “It’s been a lack of confidence a little bit. I didn’t know when and how that goal was going to come but I’m pretty pleased the way it happened. The team needed those three points and I’m happy to contribute in that manner.”
He was mobbed by his teammates after the score.
“I’ve been waiting all season for him to score,” defender Julius James said. “I went to celebrate with him but I was so tired. He took off. He’s a fast guy, you know. I tried to catch up to him. When I finally did I was winded. I was really excited.”
Cunningham’s first chance to break the record could come during the home game on July 16 vs. San Jose, when McBride will be honored at halftime.
McBride and Cunningham were teammates from 1998 until McBride departed for England after the 2003 season. Cunningham was traded to Colorado in 2005 and also spent time with Real Salt Lake, Toronto FC and FC Dallas before being released by FCD in December and selected by the Crew in the Re-Entry Draft.
“It’s great that he got rewarded for his effort,” coach Robert Warzycha said. “That was a great ball by Gardner and a great finish by Jeff.”