At the beginning of the 2011 season, Jeff Cunningham was sitting on 132 career MLS goals, with 61 of the goals coming during his time with the Columbus Crew. He only needed a single goal to tie for the MLS record with D.C. United legend Jaime Moreno. Cunningham was also tied with Brian McBride for the Crew’s all-time leading scorer.
Jeff was barely getting any time on the field. He started the odd match here and there, but his minutes were mostly coming at the end of games, usually past the 80th minute. Being a fan favorite, this made one BigSoccer member call for the release of Cunningham from the bench, exclaiming, “The cheetah needs to run.” This hail prompted me to make a simple poster reinforcing what most Crew fans wanted to see.
Everything worked out in the end as it always does. Enter July 6th. Columbus traveled to Vancouver for the first time ever to face the Whitecaps. The game was destined to end 0-0, but Cunningham scored a beautiful goal in the 90th minute after coming on in the 83rd. The goal gave Columbus a valuable three points, as well as giving Cunningham the title as the Crew’s all-time goal scorer. Now tied with Jaime Moreno, he only needed one more chance to break the MLS record.
Enter August 27th. Columbus was away from home playing the Seattle Sounders. Cunningham was a 56th minute substitute on this day that the Crew ended up getting thrashed 6-2. However, MLS history was made. A penalty kick was awarded three minutes after Jeff got on the field. The soccer gods were speaking. He stepped up to take the kick, and finished very calmly past American goalie legend Kasey Keller for his MLS record 134th career goal. It was almost like he had done it his entire life.
Now that the season is over, it is almost certain that the aging Jeff will no longer be a part of the 2012 Columbus Crew team. However, that doesn’t mean that all of the memories of him in a yellow shirt will leave us as well.