Cunningham's nose for goal leads to return

Columbus hope striker can help restore extra scoring punch

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Why would the Crew sign 34-year-old Jeff Cunningham when one of the reasons for departing with four 30-somethings from the 2010 season was a desire to get younger?

“He has the qualities that good strikers are supposed to have,” coach Robert Warzycha said.

The Crew announced Friday a multi-year deal with the forward in hopes he still exhibits the touch around the goal that has produced 132 career goals, one fewer than the MLS record held by the unsigned Jaime Moreno.

If Moreno does not get a contract, Cunningham could possibly go for the record in Moreno’s old home when the Crew open the season vs. D.C. United at RFK Stadium on March 19.

“To still be here reflects on my resiliency and to beat the league record,” Cunningham said. “When there’s been plenty of better players that have come and gone, and I’m still standing, that would be an important goal [record] for me to have.”

The veteran striker scored 62 times for the Crew between 1998 (when he was drafted ninth overall out of the University of South Florida) and 2005, when he was traded to Colorado before the start of the season.

WATCH: Best of Jeff Cunningham

Warzycha, who played alongside Cunningham in Columbus, said the striker has matured since they were teammates, noting he is now married and has a 2-year-old daughter.

“He can be a very positive leader,” said the coach.

But more than a voice in the locker room, the Crew need Cunningham to score.

The team’s 40 goals last year were 10 fewer than when it won the MLS Cup in 2008, and leading scorers Guillermo Barros Schelotto (nine) and Steven Lenhart (six) are no longer with the team. That’s why the Crew decided to pluck Cunningham via the MLS Re-Entry Draft in December after he was released by FC Dallas.

Cunningham, who in 2010 saw time mostly off FCD’s bench, scored 11 goals, two more than Schelotto did. And he did so in 1,081 fewer minutes. Compared to Lenhart, who’s role in Columbus was similar to Cunningham’s in Dallas, the Jamaican-born forward started in four fewer matches (13) and scored six more goals in 176 minutes less of play.

Despite not having racked up too many minutes (1,464) and only starting 13 of 27 matches last season, Warzycha said Cunningham, who will compete against Andres Mendoza and Emilio Renteria, has a “chance to earn a starting spot.”

“He’s a great addition to our team,” Warzycha concluded.

Negotiations between the Crew and Cunningham seemed stalled until the player made a surprise visit to training this week in Columbus. He expressed a desire to finish his career with the Crew in part because of his personal and professional connections with the city and team.

“I was confident we were going to sign Jeff before we left for Phoenix [on Saturday],” Warzycha said. “He can join the team right away and get ready for the season.”