For the Columbus Crew, their road to the final was expected after being widely considered the best team during the regular season. It also marked their debut in the final after thirteen years of existence in the league. The Crew was led by their coach, Sigi Schmid, an experienced veteran of the game who had achieved prior success as coach of the Los Angeles Galaxy. From 1999-2004, Schmid had made a dynasty out of the Galaxy by leading them to one championship and three trips to the final. In 2004, he was controversially sacked and after a year in charge of the under 20 U.S. National Team, Schmid was hired by the Crew in 2006. While they had gone through two fruitless years, the Crew had now signed a number of players like Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Alejandro Moreno and was ready to work as a team. In their first playoff match, they faced the Kansas City Wizards which ended in a 1-1 draw. The replay a week later saw the Crew beat the Wizards 2-0. Then in the Eastern Conference Final against the Chicago Fire, the Crew came back from a goal down to win 2-1 and made their berth into the final as the favorite to win.(2)
It was a tumultuous year for the New York Red Bulls who despite struggling for most of the year still achieved play-off berth. However, they then made a magical post-season run which saw them take care of the Houston Dynamo, the previous champion for the last two years 4-1 on aggregate. Then in the Western Conference final against Real Salt Lake, the Red Bulls got a goal form Dave van der Bergh in the 28th minute and then held out for the victory despite Real hitting the post three times. Even though they had lost some players to drug suspensions and were the last team to qualify, they had made their first final due to the remarkable play of key players like striker Juan Pablo Angel and backup goalie Danny Cepero. Their inspired play under the detailed tactics of Coach Juan Carlos Osorio had now led to their debut in the final.
The first twenty minutes of the game was dominated by a barrage of chances from the Red Bulls, who truly put great pressure on the Crew’s defense. It wasn’t until after the first quarter of the game did the Crew start to gain control and in the 31st minute, a quick pass from Schelotto left Alejandro Moreno alone on the right wing with a single defender who he sidestepped and then ripped a shot across goal that went off the goalie’s hand into the net. The Crew held on to halftime with both the lead and the momentum of the game.(6)
After halftime, the score remained the same until the 51st minute when Red Bulls midfielder Dane Richards passed in the penalty box to a sliding John Wolyniec who scored the equalizer. Just as the Red Bulls had got back in the game, the Crew got a corner in the 53rdminute in which Schelotto whipped it into the box and defender Chad Marshall charged in and headed it into the goal. The Crew had regained the lead and momentum which they carried throughout most of the second half. The Crew was eventually able to finish the game off in the 82nd minute when Schellotto chipped a sublime ball over the New York defenders to a charging Frankie Hedjuk who headed it over the goalie Danny Cepero into the net for the decisive blow. The Crew held on from there and won the final and were crowned champions for the first time.
The Crew won largely because of the sterling play of starters Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Frankie Hedjuk, among others. Barros Schelotto won both the MVP of the final and of the 2008 MLS season because of the difference he made for the Crew. Chad Marshall also received the award for defender of the year in 2008.