POSSIBLE MOVE TO AUSTIN GIVES CREW PLAYOFF MOTIVATION
Possible move to Austin fuels drive to win for Columbus.
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.
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.