The Day The Crew Legends Returned

The Legends game and reunion prior to the Crew’s thrilling 3-2 win over Minnesota on Sunday, October 28, 2018, was an event to remember. Here are some scenes from throughout that magical day, from the Legends Game, to Autograph Alley, to the tailgate, to the Crew match…

*****

Before the legends game, I asked team captains Dante Washington and Kyle Martino for their thoughts on the playing field, which I counted off as 27 yards long and 21 yards wide. And tilted.

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Dante said the guys received a very welcome message as they got ready for the game.

“Diania Maisonneuve texted one of the guys and said, ‘I’m here at the field and it’s tiny.’ And everyone was like, ‘Perfect!’”

As Martino inspected the field prior to warm-ups, he noted its uneven nature and said, “I had them slant the field toward me so that the ball always trickles in my direction. Thank you to the landscape team that did the grading to ensure that the ball comes to my feet at all times.”

*****

Here were the official lineups, as texted to me by Dante.

Lineups

[Note: Billy Thompson actually suited up for Team Martino.]

And here are the team photos….

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TEAM DANTE: Front row (L-R) Rob Smith and Edson Buddle. Back row (L-R) Jason Farrell, Dante Washington, David Winner, Tom Presthus
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TEAM MARTINO: Front row (L-R) Billy Thompson, Kyle Martino, Chris Wingert. Back row (L-R) Juergen Sommer, Brian McBride, Mike Clark, John DeBrito.

Manager remarks…

Martino, on being on the same team as Mike Clark, who had tweeted that he’d been sharpening his cleats in advance of the game: “That was the only thing. Dante picked the teams, but I said to put Clarkie on my team or I’m not playing.”

Washington, on weaknesses in the opponent that his team could exploit: “Martino. It’s pretty obvious. He’s got that guy Clark back there, and he can be a little scary. Supposedly. But I have the secret weapon—Edson Boodle.”

*****

Dr. Pete Edwards is more than just the presumptive Crew owner-in-waiting. He is also a highly regarded medical professional who has been the Crew’s team doctor since 1996. The Legends Game threatened to be a confluence of all of Dr. Pete’s interests. And not in a good way.

“I think that I’m more worried about injuries in this match than in the afternoon (Crew) match,” he said.

I asked if he had proactively cleared his surgery schedule for Monday.

“I’ve told them that I’m available and ready at the drop of a hat. Or a leg. Or an ankle. Or a hamstring.”

Mark Dougherty has ruptured each of his Achilles tendons since his playing days were over. As a result, he sat out the game, much to the dismay of fellow goalkeeper Tom Presthus.

“I’m sure Dr. Edwards could have used two new Achilles surgeries,” Presthus said. “He’s got a team to pay for!”

*****

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Mr. Universe

Speaking of old guys playing soccer and the dangers that might normally pose, Presthus marveled that 47-year-old Dante Washington hasn’t seemed to age at all.

“He hasn’t changed a bit,” Presthus said. “I’m sure he could step on the field and play this afternoon (in the Crew’s MLS match.) And he’s never lifted a weight in his life and he still looks like Mr. Universe.”

 

*****

In the first half of the match, Team Martino deployed an unexpected tactic. Rugged defender Mike Clark played up top while goalscoring hero Brian McBride played sweeper.

On the sideline, I asked Martino about this unexpectedly unorthodox formation.

“That’s my fault,” he said. “I take full responsibility. I forgot to tell them which way we were going. They’re actually set up perfectly for going the other way.”

Attempts to correct the formation were futile.

“Clarkie is not acquiescing,” Martino said. “He’s still playing up top. But the back line is only 18 yards from the other goal, so that’s still McBride territory.”

McBride chimed in on the alignment from the sideline during a breather.

“Clarkie loves to play forward,” he said. “I wouldn’t say necessarily with great execution, but he puts himself in good spots. That’s all you can ask from your forward. The defensive side is more that people drop back there when they’re tired. And I’ve been tired.”

Here’s a video of Clarkie getting himself into a good spot, but not executing…

 

 

 

At halftime, with a goal and assist to his name at that point, Clark spoke of the pleasure of playing forward.

“It’s easy to be a forward when you can mess up 199 times as long as you get that one goal,” he said. “As a defender, you have to be perfect all the time. It’s nice to be on the other side of that.”

*****

Two other Clarkie highlights. First, his two-footed tackle on Dante Washington.

 

 

 

Also, Clarkie’s nutmeg goal against Dante Washington, followed by his nutmeg goal celebration, which was Mark Dougherty’s favorite part of the game.

 

 

 

*****

Every time Dante scored a goal, he would run around the railing forever, high-fiving fans to celebrate. Martino had some goal celebrations, but not like Dante’s.

“Dante is obviously a better goal celebrator than me because he actually scored goals,” Martino said.

Not that Martino didn’t celebrate with abandon, as evidenced by this video.

 

 

“I unfortunately used all of the energy that I had left,” he said while catching his breath.

That was quite apparent after seeing his defense effort on this play, which I called him out on because defensive effort is of paramount importance in a game of this magnitude.

 

 

 

*****

In the first half, Team Martino ran downhill. From the sideline, Chris Wingert shared his thoughts on the slant advantage and its role in his team’s success.

“This is a big part of it,” he said. “We’re going to go the whole game. We’re not going to switch at halftime. We’re hoping that this game ends after 30 minutes.”

Alas, rules are rules. The teams traded ends after halftime, so Team Martino faced the prospect of running uphill in the second half on tired legs. This did not phase McBride.

“I prefer going uphill,” he said. “Not many people do, but I prefer uphill and into the wind. It’ something with the mentality of embracing the difficult parts.”

Martino, however, conveniently switched teams early in the second half in a swap with Tom Presthus. It may have seemed like uphill-avoidance, but as he ran by (downhill) in the middle of game action, Martino insisted to me that the move was made solely in the name of accuracy.

“I’m trying to keep this true to Crew history, so I got traded.”

*****

Among the many highlights of the game was a first-half bicycle kick attempt by McBride that came up empty.

 

 

 

“It’s called a swing and a miss,” he said. “It was a little high.”

McBride connected on a second-half bicycle kick that went wide. He insisted that going head over heels camouflaged how minuscule the vertical separation was between his body and the ground on his bicycle attempts.

“They would have been a lot better if I could actually jump anymore,” he said.

*****

Another highlight was the two-way play of Tom Presthus, who made several saves as a goalkeeper and also scored two goals of his own, one of which was a penalty kick against Dante Washington, who once told me was going to take Mark Dodd’s job in Dallas but he decided to score goals for a living instead.

“I think the records show that I scored on Dante, and that is the most important thing,” he said.

His two-goal outburst did not come as a surprise to himself.

“It’s a little-known secret across the league that there was a conspiracy to keep me off the field because it would have embarrassed the forwards,” he said. “It was led by Brian McBride, but enough time has passed. The statute of limitations has expired so I can step out on the field and show my true talents.”

*****

Here is video footage of Presthus beating Dante on a penalty kick, featuring commentary from Edson Buddle.

 

 

 

*****

After the game was over, everyone seemed happy with how it went.

“It was awesome to play with players of the past and meet people I’ve watched growing up and had seen in pictures,” said Edson Buddle, citing Billy Thompson and Juergen Sommer in that category, before realizing he had played with almost everybody else. “I’m really showing my age.”

“It was pretty amazing how everyone was getting around and moving around,” said David Winner. “Once the adrenaline got going, it was an afterthought.”

“Getting out there was great,” Jason Farrell said. “Ask me tomorrow, though, after I’ve tried to get out of bed. It was fun and what I think everyone hoped it would be. A bunch of good guys who are still good players and still a little bit competitive, but it was fun and I think everyone had a good time.”

And most importantly, nobody got hurt. After the game, Dr. Edwards swung by and shared the following thought:

“It’s a medical miracle that there were no injuries today in this match.”

*****

One of the things that made the reunion weekend special was seeing some faces one might not have expected. There are plenty of local guys, and people like McBride and Martino are still very connected to the sport and are therefore very visible, but the reunion weekend also brought home a guy like John DeBrito, who made 30 appearances for the Crew between 1999 and 2001.

DeBrito currently lives in South Florida and works as a firefighter paramedic. It’s vital and physically demanding work. He has a torn ACL and three herniated discs in his back to prove it. Now 49, DeBrito hadn’t played the game in any fashion in nearly three years. For the fans in Columbus, he felt the calling to lace up his boots one more time, even if he had to proceed in a gingerly fashion.

“I had to be a little cautious,” he said. “It was fun, but I didn’t want to have any setbacks. My legs were not prepared for that, but it worked out well. I got out there and ran for a little bit and got to be a part of the event, which was great. I’m happy I got to be a part of that.”

(NOTE: He was healthy enough to assist on the Greatest Goal in Columbus Crew History.)

Coming to Columbus also posed a dilemma for DeBrito. He is being inducted into the Southern Connecticut State University Hall of Fame, and was therefore invited back for homecoming when the announcement would be made. He couldn’t make both trips, so he decided to do the Crew reunion and then will go back to Connecticut next May for the actual induction ceremony.

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John DeBrito signing during Autograph Alley.

“I had to go to Columbus because that’s also not a chance that happens often,” he said. “It was an opportunity to catch up with the guys and go back and see the fans and the stadium. I haven’t been back there since I left. I was also hoping to take my son. He was born there and hasn’t been back, so he wanted to go to Ohio, but he couldn’t do it this week. But, definitely, I was so happy to be able to go there and participate and be involved and touch base and shake hands and mingle with the fans again. I’m so happy I could be part of a wonderful weekend with the Crew family.”

It was great to have John DeBrito home.

*****

Jason Farrell was another player who traveled a great distance to come back. The Seattle native still lives in his hometown, but despite nearly lifelong exposure to various iterations of the Sounders, he remains a Crew fan.

“I still buy Crew gear for my son,” he said. “I still try to represent. He’s kind of half and half (with the Sounders), but he’s a Crew fan. It’s kind of a bummer that he never got to see me play out here, but still a big fan.”

*****

After the game, the legends held Autograph Alley, a throwback to what once was a player-fan bonding staple that followed each home game. On the day of the reunion, the players sat under tents as the skies opened up with a steady chilly rain. Being sopping wet in 40-something degree temperatures did not deter the fans. It took a full two hours to clear the line as fans brought Crew artifacts to be autographed and players posed to countless photographs.

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Brian McBride signs autographs while just some of the super long line is visible in the background.

“It was amazing,” DeBrito said. “I was at a table with Billy Thompson and his wife videotaped the line and brought it to us. With the rain that was coming down, that was amazing. That’s Columbus Crew fan loyalty for you. That’s the support they’ve always given us.”

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Jason Farrell signs autographs while wearing Laura Clark’s hat for warmth.

“I think that’s what makes Columbus so special and different from anywhere else,” Farrell said. “Only in Columbus would the fans stand for two hours in the rain just for a chance to come up and say hi. I think that’s a testament to the club, to the city, and that the Crew will still be around. It’s a reward for the fans.”

“The coolest thing was that you saw so many people come through who had stuff from like 1996,” said David Winner. “It just goes to show how longstanding the support of the Crew has been.”

 

“It shows the passion,” added Buddle. “It shows that they care and they appreciate what we’ve done. For me, I think as you get older, you start to appreciate the past and wish you could have some of those moments back, so I think you could see that today. I think we might have started something that will spread around the league and everyone will start doing it.”

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Edson Buddle and Gino Padula signing for fans.

*****

For the fans, the legends match and Autograph Alley were both meaningful and enjoyable.

Kirk Pyle and Emily McConnelly recently moved to Ohio, so they are new Crew fans who make the drive from Mount Vernon for home games.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” McConnelly said. “We’ve been Crew fans for three years, so these guys are giving us a little bit of a tour of the history.”

“It says a lot about the team and what it means to the former players,” Pyle added. “It’s good to see how many wanted to come back and interact with people.”

Dave Hageman and his family drove from Lynchburg, VA to come to the event. For Hageman, the best part was seeing his 11-year-old son interact with everyone.

“Watching him shaking hands with people and watching the game and seeing his reactions, that was my favorite part,” he said. “And also seeing some of these guys who came from so far away. Edson Buddle came from LA, so seeing him come out here was pretty great.”

Chris Patrick was another fan who appreciated what the players had done to make the day memorable for the fans.

“They took their time to do this,” he said. “And the people who put it all together are so professional. I remember doing this and going to Autograph Alley at Crew Stadium, and not having that now, I think there’s a disconnect. Having something like this really brings everybody back. I was just impressed with how it was done and that they took their time to do it.”

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Kyle Martino signs a Save(d) The Crew sign.

Alex Stanek shared similar sentiments, especially after a year of dealing with the emotional tumult of the relocation saga.

“It’s been amazing to see all of these guys come back and that we mean a lot to them just like they mean a lot to us,” Stanek said. “After all the stuff we’ve been through the last year, to see all of these guys that I cheered for as a kid has been amazing. I got to see McBride at T-Bone’s event yesterday and showed him a picture of myself at Ohio Stadium. My parents wouldn’t let me buy a jersey, but I had a trading card and I would hold it up. That was my way of supporting him. I got to show him that picture and he loved it and we got to talk for a little bit. Only in Columbus. This only happens here. I’m so glad the weight is off and that most likely we are going to save the Crew. This was the perfect celebration. We’ve always been part of a family and this was like a family reunion.”

*****

There are moments, and then there are moments. When we spoke in advance of the reunion weekend, Martino mentioned that since his career ended prematurely at age 28 due to injury, he had regrets about things he was never able to achieve. One might think he was referring to MLS Cups or World Cups or other soccer-related things, and surely there was some of that, but that’s not what he spoke about. The example he specified, in terms of career regret, is that he was never able to take his kids onto the field in Columbus.

On Reunion Sunday, he fulfilled his wish, taking his four-year-old daughter Marlowe and two-year-old son Major onto that very special patch of immaculate grass. He also got to show them his 2002 MLS Rookie of the Year banner.

 

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Kyle with his kids on the field. Photo by / courtesy of Eva Amurri Martino.

 

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Kyle and his kids look at the Rookie of the Year banner. Photo by / courtesy of Eva Amurri Martino.

Two days later, he texted his reflection on those special moments with his children.

“I’m still on a high,” he wrote.

*****

I saw two incredible jerseys on Sunday. The first belonged to Kevin Thompson, who celebrated Dee and Jimmy Haslam’s involvement in saving the Crew with his very own personalized Browns jersey…

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Kevin Thompson’s custom Browns jersey.

The second belong to Frankie Hejduk, who had an authentic game-worn 1997 Sneaky Pete Marino jersey. Unbelievable.

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Frankie’s authentic 1997 Sneaky Pete jersey.

*****

The tailgate was a festive affair, with fans still euphoric from the recent #SaveTheCrew developments and anticipating a huge season finale with a playoff spot on the line. Some of the legends made their way to the tailgate, where, for example, Brian McBride posed for even more pictures. One cannot overstate the endurance of McBride’s smiling muscles based on the hundreds of photographs he cheerfully posed for with fans for hours on end between Autograph Alley and then the tailgate.

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Hejduk, McBride, and Clark pose for photos with fans at the Mega-Tailgate.

Another guest at the tailgate was Austin City Council member Leslie Pool, who attended the legends game and was looking forward to attending her first Major League Soccer match. Pool was the council member most devoted to doing due diligence on Anthony Precourt and she had taken the time to reach out to Columbus fans to better understand our plight. She made a visit in August for research purposes, and now with the news that the Crew are all but saved, she wanted to come back to see a Crew game.

“I’m so proud of you guys and happy for you all for the effort y’all put in,” Pool said. “It was a sustained effort and it was focused and it was powerful and it was effective. You guys caught my eye all the way down in Austin.”

Pool attended the legends match that morning and had a blast.

“That was fun,” she said. “I’ve never been to a Major League Soccer game before, so I had never seen pro soccer players play, but they were wonderful and loose and having so much fun that it was very infectious.”

As a rightful Precourt skeptic, Pool has been against the stadium deal in Austin. One thing I was curious about was if spending the day with Crew fans provided some sense of the intangible benefits that a soccer team can bring to her city. After all, the #SaveTheCrew movement wouldn’t have existed without those intangible benefits being true. She recognized that not everything is dollars and cents, but a trustworthy owner and a solid economic deal are important, as is the fan community required to make those intangible benefits real.

“The intangible benefits, I don’t think, have accrued to Austin yet,” she said. “It won’t accrue to Austin unless the crowd that is going to be their fanbase is open and welcoming…as generously as you guys do here.”

Generosity was the perfect theme of the day. The players generously paid their own way and donated their own time to come to the event. Dante Washington, the Greater Columbus Sports Commission, the Ohio History Connection, and #SaveTheCrew donated their efforts to make the logistics of the event a reality. Fans generously offered food and drink to fellow Crew fans at the tailgate. And that doesn’t even scratch the surface from the past year.

Our Crew family is as generous as it is Massive.

*****

Inside the stadium, the legends gathered in a suite to watch the Crew play with their postseason lives possibly at stake. A weather delay allowed everyone to know that the Crew clinched a postseason berth by halftime. It was fun to see the legends mingling and reminiscing amongst themselves and their families while watching the Crew play. I spent a lot of the frigid match huddled under a blanket with Mike and Sandy Urso, who were in town representing their late son Kirk. The Ursos were heartened to see so many Crew fans visiting and touching Kirk’s memorial rock in Founder’s Park after the game, completely oblivious to the fact that Kirk’s parents were nearby and feeling the love. Our Crew family is the best.

It was fun to see Dante Washington’s daughters sitting in the front row of the suite’s outdoor seats, actively cheering on the Crew. That were into it, even going so far as to ask how Minnesota tying the game impacted the Crew’s playoff position. Our Crew family is the best.

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Dougherty and his wife, Jane Muir, as John “Denzel” DeBrito photobombs in the background.

When Gyasi Zardes completed his hat-trick to give the Crew a 3-2 lead, Mark Dougherty emitted a triumphant yell and high-fived my hand so hard that it stung for a bit. Then he said he couldn’t wait for the Crew to finally stick it to D.C. United in the knockout round to get revenge for all those 1990s playoff losses. One generation of Crew players pumped up and proud of the current generation of Crew players. Our Crew family is the best.

The Zardes hat-trick and 87th minute game-winner was the perfect capper to a perfect Sunday. The legends game was a hoot. Autograph Alley was a love-fest for fans and players alike. The entire day was a celebration for a black & gold community that had been saved from unjust and unscrupulous extermination. The positive energy was palpable all day long.

“We recognized the potential of what it was going to do,” Washington said when looking back on the day’s events. “A big part of this was doing it for the fans and showing our gratitude to them for all of their years of support. It was great to be able to give something back to them and let them be happy after the past year that they have gone through and all of us have gone through.”

We went through it together. We continue to celebrate together. We will build a better Crew future together.

Our Crew family is the best.

*****

Email: sirk65@yahoo.com
Twitter: @stevesirk
If you wish to support my writing, please consider becoming a patron at my Patreon: 
https://www.patreon.com/SteveSirk

 

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3 thoughts on “The Day The Crew Legends Returned

  1. Sirk, great work as usual. You captured the essence of the match. I laughed so hard I cried. I admit I was a bit concerned that Mike may have pulled something. Just kidding.
    I still get that feeling in my stomach before Crew games and Clarkie isn’t even out there. This is our town and our team. Thank you for sharing.
    L.C.

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