POS­SI­BLE MOVE TO AUSTIN GIVES CREW PLAY­OFF MO­TI­VA­TION

Pos­si­ble move to Austin fu­els drive to win for Colum­bus.

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - SPORTS - By Chris Bils

The chants started well be­fore kick­off and lasted long into the frigid night.

But the first runout of Colum­bus Crew SC fans’ new­est ral­ly­ing cry be­gan about five min­utes into the first leg of the Eastern Con­fer­ence semi­fi­nals Tues­day at Mapfre Sta­dium. Soon, it seemed nearly all of the 14,416 fans in at­ten­dance had lent their voices. “Save the Crew.” The re­la­tion­ship be­tween sports fans and their teams is mostly lin­ear. Fans root and play­ers play. What is hap­pen- ing in Colum­bus is cir­cu­lar, and it has turned snow­ball- ing mo­men­tum into an avalanche — the con­se­quences of which are still un­clear.

“We re­pur­posed our mis­sion,” Colum­bus coach Gregg Ber­hal­ter said fol­low­ing the 4-1 win over New York City FC on Tues­day. “It’s solely to play for the fans and give them as many home games as we can and let them en­joy some­thing. Tonight for them, I can imag­ine, was an en­joy­able night.”

The eu­pho­ria came two weeks to the day af­ter one of the most somber days in Crew his­tory. On Oct. 17, Pre­court Sports Ven­tures — the An­thony Pre­court-led group that has owned the team since 2013 — an­nounced that it was ex­plor­ing mov­ing the fran- chise to Austin.

“The ini­tial feel­ings were over­whelm­ing con­fu­sion, over­whelm­ing sad­ness, over­whelm­ing anger, and just the gen­eral stages of grief that one goes through when one loses a large piece of them­selves,” said Mor­gan Hughes, a long­time sup­porter who quickly be­came the face of the fan-led “Save the Crew” move­ment.

In­side the locker room, a funny thing hap­pened. The play­ers ral­lied be­hind their fans.

“If you were a fan sup­port­ing Colum­bus Crew for 20 years, how would you feel if some­thing like this is hap­pen- ing to you?” Ber­hal­ter said when asked how the team pro­cessed the news.

“What can we do to help with that? The only thing that us as the soc­cer op­er­a­tions de­part­ment can do is win to give them ex­cite­ment and give them home games and give them some type of joy.”

12 The matches Crew with­out have now a gone loss, and bar­ring a his­toric col­lapse Sun­day will book a spot in the Eastern Con­fer­ence fi­nals as the No. 5 seed. Tues­day’s match was the team’s first at home since Pre­court’s an­nounce­ment. Emo­tions were high — and ex­tended be­yond the stands.

“I’ve been here my whole ca­reer,” said winger Justin Meram, who is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a ca­reer-best year with 14 goals and eight as­sists. “This place is spe­cial to me, and it’s shaped me into the man that I am to­day and the player I am on the field and off the field.

“I have so much love for this city. When you can get a win like this with ev­ery­thing go­ing around, and to see the crowd was elec­tric . ... They def­i­nitely lifted our spir­its.”

For Wil Trapp, the 24-yearold cap­tain from nearby Ga­hanna, Ohio, those feel­ings were even more pro­nounced. Trapp grew up play­ing for the club’s academy and has been a fan as long as he can re­mem­ber. He grad­u­ated to the first team in 2013 and be­came the cap­tain at the start of this sea­son. “Ev­ery game mat­ters to them so much more now,” Trapp said. “We as play­ers feel that. We know that we mean a lot to them, and our per­for­mances and our ef­fort gar­ners their sup­port. The more we win, the bet­ter we do, the more they’re go­ing to latch on and be­lieve in us.” That trans­fer of en­ergy was pal­pa­ble Tues­day, and Pre­court him­self was on hand to wit­ness it. He also heard ob­scene chants di­rected to­ward him fol­low­ing each sec­ond-half goal.

The owner heard that first “Save the Crew” chant, too, and saw what hap- pened im­me­di­ately af­ter: Ola Ka­mara put Colum­bus up 1-0, break­ing the chant with cries of joy.

The Crew may well be headed to Austin in 2019. At the mo­ment, the team is pour­ing ev­ery­thing it has into bring­ing a cham­pi­onship to Colum­bus.

ADAM CAIRNS / COLUM­BUS DIS­PATCH

Crew SC fans sa­vor a 4-1 win over New York City FC last week. Bar­ring a col­lapse in Sun­day’s sec­ond leg, the Crew will have an­other home match.

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