OBETZ, Ohio — After New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter surpassed the iconic 3,000-hit mark on Saturday, he admitted to reporters that he had been lying to them when he said he didn’t feel pressured as the milestone crept toward him.
Crew forward Jeff Cunningham made no such confession when he discussed his pursuit of the Major League Soccer regular-season goal record of 133 by Jaime Moreno.
Even though Cunningham entered the season needing only one score to tie, it wasn’t until the Crew's 18th game last Wednesday at Vancouver that he snapped a header past Joe Cannon in the 90th minute to equal the standard as well as win the match, 1-0.
“There’s never been any pressure,” Cunningham said Monday. “I knew that at some point I’d have a full season to score two goals and at some point I would do it.”
The brash youngster who broke in with the Crew in 1998 and used to taunt opponents with his dribbling exploits is more mature — he turns 35 on Aug. 21—- in his second stint with the team.
Cunningham’s humbled by the attention he’s getting and praised Moreno, the man he now shares a spot with at the top of the scoring list.
“[Moreno] is ahead of the class as far as being a top talent in this league,” he said. “For people to mention my name with his name is an honor.”
Cunningham is proud twice over about his goal at Vancouver. It was the game-winner (the 40th of his career), and it was a header in traffic — unusual for a striker known more for his ability to blow past defenders with his speed.
“It’s something I work on a lot in training,” he said of the header. “I was actually pretty comfortable in that situation. In my eyes, it was a good header.”
Crew coach Robert Warzycha, who was once Cunningham’s teammate, thinks the veteran has a few more goals in him.
“The first one to tie the record is the tough one,” he said. “Finally he scored one. I’m positive that he is going to score and beat the record before the end of the season.”
Cunningham already has one record to himself. The goal last week was his 63rd in a Crew uniform to break a tie with Brian McBride for the team career mark. Ironically, McBride will be the organization’s first inductee into the Circle of Honor during halftime of Saturday’s game against San Jose.
“I don’t want my [MLS] record chase to be a deflection from that,” Cunningham said. “He deserves everything for what he’s given to the game. It’s a big honor and people are happy for me but at the same time I don’t want to take away from Brian for what he’s done for this club and US Soccer in general.
“I’ll change shoes with Mr. McBride any day,” he said. “That’s a class act, man. I’m happy that the Crew has given a platform to honor him.”