Columbus Crew

The MLS overachievers — a small market that was first to build a stadium for an MLS team and has a handsome trophy collection. Now can they bring back the fans?

Trophies: 2008 MLS Cup/Supporters’ Shield, 2002 U.S. Open Cup, 2004 Supporters’ Shield, 2009 Supporters’ Shield.

Fan personality: Absent. And it’s hard to explain why. The team isn’t bad, and they’ve created a strong supporters culture in the Nordecke. But the average attendance dipped to 12,185 in 2011. It’s slowly coming back.


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Stadium situation: Perhaps Columbus Crew Stadium is showing its age as newer, sleeker downtown stadiums or megacomplexes are all the rage. It’s away from town by the fairgrounds. But this is a stadium with a proud history. It was the first built for MLS, after all. It has hosted memorable USA-Mexico World Cup qualifiers. The view isn’t bad. Give it some respect.

History

The Crew didn’t win many trophies in their early years, but they were never an easy out. Brian McBride was the league’s early breakout star and the face of the club for years. U.S. captain Thomas Dooley served a couple of years in town, and Brad Friedel did a brief tour before establishing himself in England.

Lamar Hunt was bullish on the idea of building stadiums, and he went to work right away in Columbus. After a couple of false starts, the team made a deal in 1998, and the stadium was built in less than a year.

The first trophy finally came in 2002 with an Open Cup win over Los Angeles. Another followed in 2004, ironically the year after McBride’s departure, with the Supporters’ Shield. But the team faltered the next year, and Longtime Crew player and assistant coach Robert Warzycha wound up as an interim coach when Greg Andrulis, coach of the year in 2004, was let go.

Then came the Sigi Schmid era, in which the wrongly fired Galaxy coach came to town, added Schelotto and led the team to the Supporters’ Shield/MLS Cup double in 2008. Warzycha took over for good when Schmid left for Seattle, the Crew added another Shield before going through some rebuilding and soul-searching as Schelotto faded and departed.

In 2012, the Crew missed the playoffs for the first time since the Cup win of 2008. But Columbus had sadder news off the field — the sudden death of rookie midfielder Kirk Urso. The team has rallied around his memory and imported a few skilled players from Latin America, including Designated Player Federico Higuain. For a team whose name and logo are meant to imply “hard-working,” Columbus has had some wonderfully skilled players in its history.

Worth noting: Columbus has produced quite a few good voices in the soccer media. Steve Sirk has long followed the team and compiled the book A Massive Season in honor of the 2008 double, Bill Archer strives to keep CONCACAF and FIFA honest on his BigSoccer blog, and the region has a no-longer-anonymous blogger named Fake Sigi.

2013 previews: MLSSoccer.com, ESPN, Soccer America, SB Nation

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