Eastern Conference Finals: Fire 1 – Crew 2
All the baggage and past failures evaporated over the course of 90 minutes. I had read how Chicago was the better team and were going to edge out the Crew. Columbus would make a game of it, but the Crew would be outgunned and outplayed. Not being the most positive persons at times, reading all of this was enough to drive me crazy.
I had visions that the season would end with Chicago getting multiple goals and the Crew would get shutout. The season would end at home on the bitterest of notes. The Crew did try to oblige in the first half. Chicago controlled the first half. The Fire played their game and clamped down the counterattack.
My worst visions included Blanco and McBride involved in slicing open the Crew defense. The nightmare became reality as Blanco’s quick throw sprung Mapp. The ensuing cross found McBride. O’Rourke has a lot of skills, outjumping McBride is not one of them. McBride’s header lofted over Hesmer and settled in the net. A funny thing happened though: I did not have visions of doom and dread. Not with the Crew playing as well as they have this year.
The opening of the second half was interesting, not for what happened on the field. Everyone who went to get their beers, sodas, and dollar brats did not sit back down. Everyone in the Nordecke and the north end had been standing throughout the first half. I saw the east and west stands starting to join in on the standing, jumping, and chanting fun.
Either the team responded to Coach Schmid’s halftime “encouragement” or were buoyed by the crowd response because it took less than 10 minutes to not only pull back the first goal, but to also find the go ahead goal. The first goal was a testament to Schelotto’s set piece brilliance. Marshall proceeded to dominate McBride to reach the ball first. The carom of the crossbar sent the crowd into rapture. I have only heard that before in Crew Stadium for sold out National Team games against Mexico.
The team would ensure the whole stadium remained on their feet with a second goal a few minutes later. I knew it was our night when Schelotto was able to hold off the much taller Soumare to head the ball to Moreno. Ale’s header found a wide open Gaven. Gaven’s shot slid past Busch and put the Crew into the lead and start another deafening roar.
The Fire had 35 minutes to find an equalizer, but they certainly played like they were already finished. Marshall absolutely owned the matchup with McBride. Blanco was invisible and Mr. ESPN2 must have never left the team bus, because I cannot Chris Rolfe even making a play Thursday. The clearest indication the Crew had the game in had came when Coach Schmid took off Schelotto with 10 minutes to play. The MVP wasn’t needed for PKs, because Chicago was not going to send the game to overtime.
As the second ticked off the clock, the stands became a party atmosphere. Everyone was standing. The Nordecke chants spread throughout the rest of the stadium. I could see people jumping up and down, clapping, and cheering in the normally sedate center circle seats. The 14,000 plus crowd knew they were seeing something no other Crew team had done. A team that was headed to LA for the MLS Cup.
I had decided that I was not going to head out to the Home Depot Center for the MLS Cup. It’s a lot of time and money to spend to see just one game. However, I came to my senses and realized this is not just one game. This is the culmination of a special season. The first time the Crew have made it to MLS Cup, so on Friday I booked my flight and hotel and will be heading to LA for my very first Crew road trip. How could I miss watching this team just one last time.