This week, the Major League Soccer world was shaken up when Grant Wahl revealed that Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt plans to move the team to Austin if the City of Columbus doesn’t get a new downtown stadium.
Needless to say, the news came as a gut punch to Ohio soccer fans, as well as countless others in the U.S.
The city of Columbus and its fans paved the way for soccer in America today. The team’s home, Mapfre Stadium, was the first soccer-specific stadium in the league when it was built back in 1999. In addition, Columbus has been home to some of the greatest moments in U.S. soccer history.
There’s a reason the United States Soccer Federation loves playing critical World Cup Qualifying matches in the city. Hell, they even have a video on their site literally titled, “No Place Like Columbus“.
Columbus residents are some of the most die-hard, loyal supporters in the U.S.
So when the news came down that Precourt was potentially taking the city’s beloved soccer team away, it’s no surprise that supporters responded with anger, sadness and frustration.
The Twitter feed of sports reporter and Columbus fan Mark Titus says it all:
New logo, adding that "SC" garbage, killing Crew Cat, and wearing jerseys with piss on them were only changes made. But it’s our fault?
— Coach Mark Titus (@clubtrillion) October 17, 2017
There’s little doubt that Precourt is public enemy number one in Columbus and for many MLS fans.
But on top of that, Major League Soccer has an interesting challenge ahead. Expansion teams are generating unprecedented fan support while many of the older clubs are fighting to grow their base.
All but two of the original MLS clubs that still exist today rank in the bottom half of average fan attendance.
But assuming fan support in certain cities is lost, like Precourt presumably is in Columbus, is misguided. U.S. soccer fans today are different from 1996 and will be different in another 20 years.
Columbus has a rich tradition with the sport.
Picking up and leaving this incredible fan base could be a shortsighted decision with significant long-term impacts. Given the fast-growing but ever-fragile state of soccer in the U.S., it’s important that we preserve the strong communities that already exist and cultivate new ones. Not scorn those that have helped us get to this point.