Best of the rest

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Last week, before they embarked on their first playoffs since 2004, the Columbus Crew held their 2008 awards ceremony.

Although the team handed out statues for awards such as MVP (Guillermo Barros Schelotto), Defender of the Year (Chad Marshall) and Man of the Year (Frankie Hejduk), many would-be honorees got nothing.

Given that nearly everyone on the roster played a part in making this year's Crew the best of all time, it seems reasonable to chip in with a little bit more recognition. Without further ado ...

Best super-sub

Fans usually clamor for flashy Nigerian midfielder Emmanuel Ekpo when the Crew attack is struggling. But nobody has had a bigger impact off the bench this season than rookie forward Steven Lenhart.

Even before he scored the game-tying goal in Saturday's playoff opener, Lenhart had accounted for equalizers against Los Angeles and Chicago earlier this year. Jason Garey scored goals off the bench, too, but the clutch nature of Lenhart's tallies gives him the edge.

Most improved

After the season's first few games, Danny O'Rourke's move from midfielder to defender didn't seem to be working out. He was emphasizing strength over skill and conceding penalty kicks at a rapid rate. But as the season progressed, the Worthington Kilbourne graduate found his form. O'Rourke has become a valuable asset to the backline, filling in ably at outside or central defense.

Most underused asset

New Zealand midfielder Duncan Oughton has been with the Crew longer than anyone else on the roster. As the cliche goes, he bleeds black and gold. So it was a bummer to see him so rarely in the lineup as Columbus enjoyed its best season ever.

Brian Carroll, who starts at Oughton's position, holding midfielder, quietly became one of the Crew's most crucial cogs this year. But it would have been nice to see St. Dunc on the pitch a little more often.

Quick picks:

  • Most likely to be confused with Captain Morgan: Gino Padula
  • Most likely to be hacked: Robbie Rogers
  • Best flopper: Eddie Gaven
  • Most fun to chant: "Alejandro Moreno!" (To the tune of "Seven Nation Army")
  • Hardest drinker: Frankie Hejduk

What's next for the Crew?

Columbus nearly let Kansas City escape with a 1-0 win in the first leg of the home-and-home Eastern Conference Semifinals, which will be decided by adding the score of both matches. But a stoppage-time strike from substitute Steven Lenhart allowed the Crew to return home level with the Wizards.

That makes Saturday's match - the Crew's first home playoff appearance since the notorious 2004 meltdown against New England - a winner-take-all affair. Should the match end in a draw, the teams will play a 30-minute mini-game. If that doesn't solve the stalemate, penalty kicks will.

The match will be televised on HDNet and ONN.

Kansas City Wizards at Columbus Crew

7:30 p.m.

Saturday, Nov. 8

Crew Stadium, North Side