On Wednesday — just three days shy of his 27th birthday — Columbus Crew defender Julius James received a couple of early presents.
The first was his signature on a contract extension with the club that claimed him in February after D.C. United waived him. The second was a goal from his road roommate, Jeff Cunningham. The veteran’s 90th-minute winner, the lone goal in Wednesday night’s match against the Vancouver Whitecaps, tied the striker with Jaime Moreno for the most career MLS goals at 133.
“Columbus gave me a great opportunity,” James said of his contract extension. “I feel like a lucky guy and truly blessed to be part of the organization.”
As blessed as James feels about his individual achievement, Cunningham’s strike was a high point, as well, if only because conversations between the pair will be that much easier. Cunningham’s goal ended a regular season MLS drought that stretched back to last October 2, when the striker notched for FC Dallas against the Chicago Fire.
“We’ve talked about the goal but I’ve tried not to talk too much about it, if you know what I mean,” James said. “I’m so happy for him.”
Cunningham, who was released by FCD in December, has played in 12 games for the Crew this season and started in three.
“He stuck with it,” James said. “You can see him working extra hard in practice. He’s a professional. Every day he’s out there practicing finishing. It’s something most people don’t see of him.”
As relieved as Cunningham was to catch up with Moreno, he understood the significance of Wednesday’s win following a loss last Saturday at Dallas. Columbus' 27 points (7-5-6) tie them with Philadelphia at one point behind Eastern Conference leaders New York.
The Crew were headed for a frustrating draw, even after Vancouver midfielder Shea Salinas was sent off in the 78th minute. Cunningham was introduced to the match five minutes later, and with time running out, left back Josh Gardner was able to pick the striker out at the edge of the six-yard box.
“I thought the game was a bit open but after the red card, we got control of the match from that point on and I was happy to come on and get the game winner,” Cunningham said.
Let the Debate Begin
Fans of the Crew and United never agree on anything, so it’s likely that there will be a heated debate on the question of whether Cunningham or Moreno is the better player.
In that spirit, here are some facts:
• Of the retired Moreno’s 133 goals, 44 (33 percent) came via penalty kicks; Cunningham has 19 from the spot (14 percent). Cunningham has converted 86 percent (19 of 22) of his penalties; Moreno 85 percent (44-52).
• Moreno played 25,792 minutes in 340 games (295 starts) and averaged 0.46 goals per 90 minutes. Cunningham is at 22,575 minutes in 356 games (232 starts) and averages 0.53 goals a game.
• Cunningham has 40 game-winners; Moreno had 26. Moreno leads in home goals (83-77) but Cunningham has the edge in away scores (56-50).
• Moreno has more assists (102-69) and a better scoring chance percentage (19.4-17.3).
• Moreno’s 44 converted PKs alone would tie him for 34th all-time in MLS goals with Ariel Graziani and ex-Crew Stern John, who amazingly scored his in just 55 games.