The heavyweight Eastern Conference Final battle between the Columbus Crew and the Chicago Fire exceeded the already high expectations for it entering Thursday night.
The game pitted the Supporter’s Shield winning Crew against the Fire, who obtained the third-best regular season record. Before the first kick even occurred, the match was set-up for greatness. The atmosphere at Crew Stadium was absolutely electric – the best it has been in years. Columbus supporters were loud, and the traveling group of Fire fans had a solid representation of their own.
The game was everything it was expected to be and more, with fast, free-flowing, end-to-end play keeping observers’ eyes glued to the field. Guillermo Barros Schelotto had his way with the Fire, as did teammates Eddie Gaven and Robbie Rogers.
Brian McBride, one of the most respected and heralded American players of all-time, opened up the scoring in the 29th minute with a lovely floating header. His younger counterpart Chad Marshall responded for the Crew in the 49th minute, and Eddie Gaven scored the eventual game-winner in the 56th minute. Both goals were assisted by Schelotto, and it is the first MLS Cup appearance for the Crew.
Overall, the game was easily the best of the MLS postseason so far. Crew Stadium was absolutely electric, even without a roof to keep the noise in like the newer MLS stadiums. The pace of the game was comparable to any league, and the intensity of the game was evident throughout with incidents like Jon Busch getting in the face of Robbie Rogers.
Really, it was everything the MLS could ask for in a championship game. Unfortunately, it was an Eastern Conference Final and not an MLS Cup. Hopefully MLS Cup can replicate the environment and excitement put out between the Crew and the Fire, but regardless it was an instant classic for Major League Soccer, and exactly what the league needs to retain fans.
Jeff Kassouf is a staff writer for The New Paltz Times and a freelance writer who covers soccer, and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org