Most weekends in Columbus, Ohio are spent watching the Ohio State Buckeyes play football and basketball but as both of their seasons draw to a close it opens the door for another sport – soccer. The newly re-branded Columbus Crew SC has started to attract the large population of sports fans in Central Ohio. With attendance at games on the rise for 3 straight years the Crew have been doing something right. The club has homegrown talent featuring in the squad frequently including vice-captain and US national team player, Wil Trapp, who is from Gahanna, Ohio, only a 15 minute drive from Mapfre Stadium. This helps draw local fans knowing the players have a love for the club.
Columbus Crew SC built the first ever soccer-specific stadium in the USA in 1999 and have been on the rise since then. The Crew won MLS cup in 2008 and have done well in the always changing MLS landscape. Recently the club re branded to Columbus Crew SC and have done a good job growing a strong fan base in Columbus. The stadium naming rights were sold to Spanish insurance giants Mapfre Insurance in early March, naming the stadium Mapfre Stadium. With the MLS season starting up the Crew are hoping to make the playoffs and possibly do better than that.
With the New York Red Bulls visiting Columbus on Saturday I traveled to Mapfre Stadium to watch a battle between two of the Eastern Conferences 2014 playoff teams. It was a very cold night in Columbus with the high during thew game only around Fº 27 degrees. A small crowd of just 10,302 people filled a half empty stadium in only the second home game of the season.
There was a very slow start to the game as neither side could get much going in the first half. Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan the two best players for Red Bulls held quiet by a stifling Crew SC defense without star man Wil Trapp who was out due to calf injury.
The game really started to get hot just 3 minutes into the second half. Crew defender Emanuel Pogatetz made a clumsy tackle in the box and took out Red Bull Lloyd Sam. New Yorj’s Bradley Wright-Phillips coolly slotted home the penalty to give Red Bulls the lead.
But 10 minutes later it was Crew SC who found the back of the net. Midfielder Tony Tchani broke free back post on a corner and had an open net to finish into to. It was the Crew who looked the better side after the goal, but a fatal mistake by Michael Parkhurst let Mike Grella chip Crew SC goalkeeper Steve Clark.
After Red Bulls took the 2-1 lead it looked all downhill from there for the Crew and in the 84 minute things got much worse. As Frederico Higuain looked to pull away from a defender the referee wrongly called a foul on Higuain who then turned to the referee in clear anger and said something directed at the referee. He was given a second yellow card and the Crew had to finish the match with only 10 men.
Crew SC kept searching for the last gasp equalizer but it was no where to be found and the game ended 2-1. Coach Gregg Berhalter summed up the game for Crew SC very well in his press conference, “I think the first two games a lot has clicked; in this game, nothing clicked”. Nothing clicked for sure for Crew SC and they left empty-handed.
A disappointing result for Columbus, but Columbus Crew SC does a good job at making sure the match is fun for all fans that come. The MLS gets even more intriguing each season as more star players arrive and an increase in fans around the nation will make it a strong league in years to come.