Future Less Uncertain, Columbus Crew Win Final Game Of Regular Season
Columbus Crew SC fans decked out in black and bright yellow clothing and face paint packed the stands of MAPFRE Stadium late Sunday afternoon. Even a severe weather game delay couldn’t keep away spectators, who cheered the team onto a 3-2 victory against Minnesota United FC.
Now, the Crew is slated to face D.C. United in the Eastern Conference Knockout Round on either October 31 or November 1.
Supporters pounded drums and waved signs into the air with slogans like “Save the Crew,” cheering for hours for a team whose future remains in limbo. Beth Dunaway says nothing was going to get in the way of her attending potentially the last Crew game of her life.
“I mean, we live in Cincinnati and I have to work at 6 in the morning tomorrow, but I’m here,” Dunaway says. “Because I love this team and I love soccer.”
Up until a few weeks ago, it looked like Sunday night was going to be a farewell for the Crew before owner Anthony Precourt moved the team to Austin. But on October 12, grassroots group Save the Crew announced that Cleveland Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam, the Columbus Partnership and a group of local investors were negotiating to buy the franchise and keep it in Columbus.
There’s still much to work out: No papers have been signed, and investors are still puzzling over the question of a new stadium. With renewed hope, though, Crew fans treated this final regular season game as a rebirth.
“Because three weeks ago I was thinking this could potentially be the last time I ever see the Crew play. Now I care more,” said Dunaway’s husband Spencer. “I can yell at the players if they’re doing bad because I’m not focused on the team. I’m focused on, now we can win again.”
Relief, Not Dread
Upper Arlington resident Jean Botomogno has been a part of the city’s soccer scene for decades, attending games whenever he’s not traveling for work.
“So for soccer aficionados like us, it was great to have a team in town,” Botomogno says. “The prospect of the team leaving was very disheartening.”
He hopes the team will be saved after all, but remains cautious—nothing is set in stone yet.
“Assuming it actually happens, because we don’t know for sure, it’s a great relief,” Botomogno says.
It’s been a long year for Crew fans. Almost as soon as Precourt announced intentions to move, he began pursuing approval for an Austin stadium. Attendance at Crew games, which were already some of the least-attended in the MLS, fell by another 20 percent.
Even as Precourt, the league, and Austin City Council moved toward an agreement, Columbus fans and local businesses rallied behind their own effort to #SavetheCrew. The city and state sued to stop the move, using an Ohio law intended to stop sports teams from moving towns. As the plan currently stands, Precourt is expected to transfer the rights to the Crew while establishing a new franchise in Texas.
Season ticket-holder Bryan Stumpf says the uncertainty took its toll.
“There haven’t been a lot of people showing up. I’ve actually been dreading this day for
months,” Stumpf says. “But with the good news coming out a few weeks ago, it’s super exciting.”
“Wind In Our Sails”
Ian McCullough says new ownership would be good for Columbus, and he hopes they’ll build a new stadium too.
“With the new owners, it sounds like they understand the fan base and the community,” McCullough says. “As much as they give back to us, we’re going to give to them tenfold.”
MLS says it’s committed to keeping the Crew in Columbus, with some conditions: The city must come up with long-term plans for a stadium, a strong season ticket base and long-term corporate support.
Carly Bevis just started supporting the Crew after moving to Columbus a few years ago. She says it’s a relief the team might be saved.
“We’re not gonna say it’s final yet until it actually is final,” Bevis says. “But it obviously gave us a ton of wind in our sails.”
There is no official timeline for the Crew’s purchase. Fans will have to wait and see what happens, but they’re confident of a return to MAPFRE Stadium next year.