WASHINGTON, D.C. --—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.
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.