Separation can't break the bond forged during the Columbus Crew's 2008 championship season.That was never more evident than when all the key figures from the MLS Cup winners gathered for a White House ceremony hosted by President Barack Obama on Monday afternoon.
It was harder to tell if the current Crew players were more excited to see the President or their former coach Sigi Schmid and ex-players Ezra Hendrickson, Brad Evans and Pat Noonan when they met at the Baltimore airport for the bus ride to D.C.
"It's very meaningful to have them here," forward Alejandro Moreno said. "They had a very important role in what we did last year. It's nice to see the old group together again."
Schmid and the three former players were presented their championship rings by Crew president/general manager Mark McCullers before entering the White House grounds.
The entourage then split into two groups for a 45-minute tour. At the end, the team -- including those no longer with the Crew -- posed for a group photo outside of the Blue Room.
"They're all friends. This team hasn't really changed much from last year," Schmid said.
Schmid, Crew coach Robert Warzycha and the assistant coaches and staff also had their pictures taken together.
For Crew midfielder Brian Carroll, his first visit to the White House was well worth the wait. He grew up in suburban D.C. and won an MLS Cup with D.C. United in 2004 but the team did not go to the White House.
"It's pretty special to get a tour of the White House and meet the President," he said. "I was the last person to shake his hand before he spoke."
The Crew, including owner Clark Hunt, son of late Crew founder Lamar Hunt, assembled in the Rose Garden prior to the President's arrival. Also in attendance were several politicians with Columbus and Ohio ties; MLS Commissioner Don Garber; members of the Hunt family and seven players from Columbus' East Side Inner City Youth Soccer League who had participated in a community clean-up with the Crew last week.
Obama talked for about five minutes and acknowledged the Crew's rise from a non-playoff team in 2007 to winning its first title.
He singled out Schmid for being coach of the year, Guillermo Barros Schelotto's league MVP award and three assists in the MLS Cup win against New York and praised 2008 MLS defender of the Year Chad Marshall, who along with midfielder Robbie Rogers and Evans took a day off from the U.S. national team's preparation for the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
"It was pretty cool to hear him say my name," Marshall said. "I wasn't expecting that. It's an honor to play for my country and meet the person who's running it."
Obama said he mainly follows soccer through his daughters' games but said he was proud of the U.S. showing in the recent FIFA Confederations Cup and the Gold Cup and is hoping for a good showing in next year's World Cup.
"It's clear soccer is on the rise and MLS is a big part of it," Obama said.
He said the Hunt family is a big reason why. "Their legacy and dedication to American professional sports, to soccer in particular has been critical to the success of this team but also to the success of this league," he said.
Hunt presented the 44th President a signed ball, a banner and a gold jersey with "Obama 44" on the back.
"That's what I wanted," Obama said as he held up the shirt.
As he was leaving, the President looked at the MLS Cup and commented, "That's a big trophy" before dribbling the ball with his hand as he returned to the Oval Office.
Moreno went to the White House after Houston won the 2006 title but said it was just as exciting and rewarding this time.
"It's a reflection of the kind of season we had last year and our accomplishments," he said. "Not everybody gets a chance to do it. It's a treat for us and it's part of what we earned during the 2008 season."
Schmid would echo those sentiments. He won three NCAA titles coaching UCLA and an MLS Cup with the Galaxy in 2001 but had never been invited to the White House.
"It's a once in a lifetime experience," he said. "It's a big step for soccer. It's great for MLS."
It was a dream come true for the German-born Schmid as he strolled from room-to-room with Warzycha, a native of Poland.
"As I told Robert, for a couple of naturalized citizens we've done OK," he said.
After leaving the White House and taking a few final pictures and videos, the group -- minus the former coach and players -- headed to Truesdell Elementary School in D.C. for a clinic where they demonstrated soccer skills and gave life lessons about education and the importance of community service.
Obama mentioned the Crew's outreach work in Columbus and D.C. as part of the administration's "United We Serve" initiative.
It was a tiring trip on a hot afternoon that normally would have been a day off following a 0-0 tie at Chicago on Saturday but midfielder Duncan Oughton said it was worth the effort.
"A little New Zealand kid never thought he's get to the White House," he said. "It was a long day but that stuff is fun. The kids enjoyed it and the guys had a good time. There will be a lot of tired bodies tomorrow."
Now, the attention turns to Saturday's match against Real Salt Lake that could enable the Crew to tie the league record 18-game home unbeaten streak.
"It's important to keep the home streak going. It would be nice to keep it going with a win," Oughton said.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times