Sunday, July 22, 2012
By: David Burgin
From the parking lot outside the modest, yet special, yellow erector set that is Columbus Crew Stadium, to the cozy confines within America’s first ever soccer specific stadium, the atmosphere at last night’s Columbus Crew/DC United match was revealing. Revealing in a good way.
A number of things came together to create the, positively, revealing atmosphere. The hardcore fans in the northeast corner were bountiful, loud, unified, a key ingredient, and at least one or two of the fingers on the hand that grasped the ladle which stirred the pot between Hudson Street and 17th Avenue.
The attentiveness of those attending was impressive. All around me, both young and old watched intently the game on the pristine field of green below. Little, or possibly no, artificial noise was pumped into the rarefied air of the stadium by those in charge of such things. Only the sound of cheers, drums and the ever present feel of a large group of people, immersed in the simmering brew, saturated the evening’s mood. In all, over seventeen thousand fans filled the bleachers of Crew Stadium. Not a sell out, but a large enough crowd to thicken the stew.
I have watched all but one of The Crew games this season, but for the first time this year I got to watch the Black and Gold live and in person in the original American Soccer Chapel. I was not disappointed.
Since the very first game The Crew played in 1996, and in all the games between then and now, the games in Ohio Stadium, and the games in Columbus Crew Stadium, I don’t remember feeling like I was attending a mature, accepted without reservation, edition of a professional soccer match. Sure, there were games each season when the excitement was palpable, and there have been many memorable games.
The Inaugural game was amazing. The cheers of “We love you, Lamar Hunt” coming from me and a small group of friends after the game are vivid in my mind. Lamar just happened to be walking through the same tunnel, under Ohio Stadium, as our delirious group.
The game in which 31,000 filled Ohio Stadium, and rooted The Crew into the playoffs was sublime. The game which happened to coincide with the birth of my second son at the Ohio State Medical Center was memorable for me; because, after standing by my unconscious wife’s side for most of a day (she had a c-section), waiting for her to shake off the effects of the drugs and then seeing our son for the first time, together, we sat, well, she was lying down (she deserved to), until she fell back to sleep for the evening. A day later she gave me the Okay to wander the few hundred yards to Ohio Stadium to watch a match. I sat at that match by myself, exhausted, not wanting to be around anyone, but still with the urge to watch The Crew.
The point in describing a few of the exciting and memorable Crew games is to contrast the feeling I got last night. The feeling that I’ve never had at a Columbus Crew soccer game. While this year’s team is average, struggles to piece together dangerous attacking forays, and constantly in flux, I couldn’t help but feel like the crowd was there for the soccer. It was a mature crowd.
By mature I mean soccer savvy and into the game. Yes, there were kids there. Yes, there were family’s there. But, I don’t ever remember everyone around me being so into this particular type of Crew game. This wasn’t a playoff game. This wasn’t the United States versus Mexico. This wasn’t even a “last game of the season, and we need a win to get into the playoffs,” game.
Last night’s game was smack dab in the middle of the season. Last night’s game featured a 2012 version of The Crew which is less than awe-inspiring. But, last night’s game had something that I am having a hard time describing. The game had a crowd, an atmosphere, a mood which I can’t ever remember experiencing.
For me, last night’s game evolved into something more than just the players and the team’s performance. I know The Crew won 1-0 on a Chris Birchall goal. I know Justin Meram should be up front. I know Andy Gruenebaum and Josh Williams are the heart and soul of this year’s defense. I know all those things, but last night is confounding me.
I feel like Columbussocites, (the soccer environs therein), have stepped over some invisible line. Absolutely, I felt last night as if everyone in attendance wanted to see The Black and Gold win, and that they wanted to see quality soccer, but I kept getting this weird underlying vibe.
The vibe said, “Columbus is a now a soccer town.” The untouchable feeling in the “atmosphere” said to The Crew front office, “All you have to do is make this affordable for the Columbussocites. Embrace what you are, where you are and never forget the game is about the people; all of them.”
Weird last night was. A somewhat disjointed victory over the oldest of rivals, but a victory nonetheless. Why am I focused on something other than the game?
Perhaps because the opportunity to set The Columbus Crew soccer franchise in granite, and make it an integral part of Central Ohio seems to be upon us. Columbus just might be turning into a place that fans of “The Beautiful Game” think of when thinking about moving. Columbus just might be a place where Columbus Crew Stadium is close to full for every game. Maybe, just maybe that something in the air was more than my imagination.
The Crew play @ Sporting Kansas City Saturday, July 28, 8:30 Eastern kick-off. In-between now and next weekend The Crew play a friendly against Stoke of England. That game is Tuesday, July 24, 7:30pm kick-off in Crew Stadium. The Stoke game is a chance to see a player who is an anomaly in high level soccer, Peter Crouch. Crouch is 6’8” tall, skinny as a rail, and amazingly effective. A praying mantis with a ball at his feet.
The Crew still have it all to do…