COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Crew are hoping that Jeff Cunningham will want to return to where his pro career started to become the all-time scoring leader in MLS.
That’s why Columbus jumped on the chance to select the veteran striker, who has spent the last three seasons playing for FC Dallas, in Wednesday’s second stage of the Re-Entry Draft.
“At the end of the day, I think he values Columbus as a station because he played here once before,” Crew technical director Brian Bliss said. “He had some pretty dang good years scoring goals here. I’d like to think he views this as home for him. He’s still got a few goals to score.”
The 34-year-old Cunningham scored 62 goals for the Crew from 1998 to 2004 to tie Brian McBride for the franchise lead, and his 132 career goals are just shy of the league mark set by Jaime Moreno, who is out of contract at D.C. United and is a free agent.
“He started his career in Columbus,” said Crew coach Robert Warzycha said, who shared the pitch with Cunningham at Columbus when the forward was the scourge of the league. "I thought it would be good for him to come back here and break Moreno’s record and show the fans he’s still a good player."
[inline_node:325032]Cunningham left the Crew in January of 2005, when he was traded to Colorado. Since then, he has played for the Rapids, Real Salt Lake and Toronto FC before landing in Dallas.
Always temperamental when not getting a start for the Crew, the veteran forward has matured over the years. In the last couple of seasons, Cunningham found his niche in a limited role for FCD, tallying a combined 28 goals and nine assists while starting only 36 of 55 games he played, and helped them reach the MLS Cup final this year.
“Obviously, he has a lot of talent, and I’m sure we can talk the same language and do everything we can to win a championship,” Warzycha said.
Bliss is confident the Crew will be able to sign the former US international. The club has a week to make a viable offer.
“We have a number in mind,” Bliss said. “Hopefully we’ll have an agreement.”
Warzycha added that the Crew have a “good chance” of signing Cunningham.
If Cunningham signs, he will join forwards Emilio Renteria, Andrés Mendoza and Steven Lenhart. And while Cunningham might be viewed as a depth player, Warzycha doesn’t see it that way.
“If he’s going to be better and score the goals better than any players we have, he’s going to be on the field,” he said. “If he’s going to be a factor like he was in Dallas, any coach would put him on the field.”
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