Newcastle, Columbus share memories
Exactly 11 years ago Tuesday, Newcastle United played the Crew to a
2-2 draw before 18,212 fans in what is still considered one of the best
matches in Crew Stadium history.
Magpies goalkeeper Steve Harper played the second half and allowed the
tying goal in the 84th minute to a young Jeff Cunningham, who dribbled
through midfield and past the Newcastle defense to nullify a goal by
Carl Cort less than 60 seconds earlier.
Harper, entering his 17th season with the club, may get a chance to
face Cunningham again Tuesday in Newcastle’s first visit back to Ohio’s
capital city. The growth of the sport in the United States since 2000
hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“It seems to have taken a long time, but soccer seems to finally be
taking off in MLS, plus the US women’s team did very well in the World
Cup,” Harper said. “They probably should have won it. We all watched
Newcastle are among a host of European teams traveling through MLS in
order to prepare for their season, which kicks off next month.
“They’ve always been fit and strong, but I think the coaching has
improved and the technical ability of the players is much more
noticeable,” Harper said. “There’s a lot of skillful players in MLS.”
Newcastle tied Sporting Kansas City 0-0 last week and lost 1-0 Saturday
to third-division Orlando City. Because there will be unlimited
substitutions for Tuesday’s friendly each team is expected to go through
most of their rosters.
For Crew coach Robert Warzycha, who played the full match against
Newcastle in 2000, that means using his starters judiciously while still
fielding a competitive squad before and after halftime.
“We’re going to have a mixed lineup,” Warzycha said. “I don’t want to
see one team stronger than the other one. Perhaps some veterans will be
with the young guys. I’d like to play the best lineup against these guys
but it’s hard to do. It’s good competition, but we have so many more
[MLS] games and some injuries, [so] I’m a little bit afraid, to be
honest with you.”
Newcastle manager Alan Pardew expects his side to be sharper in their
final US match after enduring excessive heat in Kansas City and
Saturday’s match on Field Turf in the Citrus Bowl. Natural grass had
been placed on top but was deemed unsafe and had to be hastily removed.
“We were a little bit hot and bothered and tired [in Orlando],” Pardew
said after Monday’s practice in Crew Stadium, where 83 degrees felt
comfortable. “The pitch, mentally we were pretty unhappy, I think,
before we started.
“Coming here, there’s a breeze. The pitch is good, the stadium’s nice
so our players will be in a better frame of mind,” he added. “MLS is
growing as we’ve seen with the Premier League teams coming over here and
having real difficult games.”
It’s a lesson that’s not been lost on Pardew nor his Magpies.
“We’ve found that out,” the Newcastle manager said. “We still haven’t
won here so to beat Columbus would be a good result for us because they
are one of the stronger MLS teams.”