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Fans greet Columbus Crew SC at airport after Trillium Cup win in Toronto

An impromptu Welcome Home party to celebrate winning a "manufactured" rivalry.

@JulieStankey

Columbus Crew SC and Toronto FC have played for the Trillium Cup since 2008. The trophy is awarded to the winner of the regular season series between the two teams. It was seen by many as an attempt to create an artificial rivalry between the two sides, likely due to the perception that (at the time) TFC lacked "natural" rivals. The budding rivalry was picked up by the mayors of the respective cities, who made a "jersey bet", which Michael Coleman of Columbus won. There was always a feeling, especially in the Columbus faithful, that the Reds were not "real" rivals, at least not on the level of the Chicago Fire or D.C. United. It was a "manufactured" rivalry.

But perhaps that feeling is starting to change.

On Saturday afternoon Crew SC won a convincing 2-0 victory in Toronto, clinching the Trillium Cup, as well as a playoff birth. Many fans were excited. Columbus beat Toronto and looked good doing it. In the twittersphere there was your typical smack talk, taunting, a few over-reactions proclaiming the MLS Cup was all but a formality, but also, something a little different.

A few Black & Gold fans floated the idea of going out to the airport to welcome the team home after their Canadian triumph. When I first saw it, I thought it was in jest. It seemed, to me, a tad excessive. But I thought back, remembering the amazing scenes at Port Columbus when fans flocked there to welcome home the Massive champions back in 2008, and decided maybe something a bit excessive was actually in order.

After all, we'd just beaten our rivals up north handily, won a cup, and clinched the playoffs. Seemed like a reason to celebrate. I asked on Twitter if this was a serious idea. I was told that if we could find out what time they were getting in, and it wasn't absurdly late, it was serious.

Turns out, it wasn't absurdly late. After a little bit of cajoling, I convinced my girlfriend that this would be a very cool thing to do, and later that night we were off to Port Columbus, unsure how how many would be joining us, but excited nonetheless.

We were the first to arrive at the designated meeting space. A few minutes later a gaggle of Crew SC supporters arrived, including Evonne Segall, who helped organize the affair. We were seven. Then more would trickle in as the night wore on, aided in their timing by the team's flight being delayed about half an hour. We ended up with enough to field a full soccer team, with a few subs to spare (which is my cop out way of saying I didn't actually count our grand total). Thankfully, the Black & Gold were too tired to take us up on our offer for a friendly.

Justin Meram was the first off the plane. He seemed surprised to see us. None of his teammates were in sight, so we joked he flew home separately. He quietly thanked us, and went about his way. After him the team slowly tricked in, in groups of two or three. A couple turned around and took selfies with us in the background. Michael Parkhurst, Wil Trapp, and Steve Clark among others went through and high fived the small crowd. Coach Gregg Berhalter even stopped and chatted with us for a few minutes. He seemed genuinely touched that we were there.

After the last of the team had gone through the gate to pick up their baggage and hopefully get some sleep, we dispersed. The players reactions to us had varied from amused, to slightly confused, to touched. The next day I reached out to the pair of fans who "organized" the idea, as much as an impromptu airport trip can be organized. I asked why now? why the Trillium Cup with it's history of being a more "artificial" rivalry?

I don't know about a manufactured rivalry, but if you read the names on the Trillium Cup, it's obvious where it belongs. I mean, sure, it took a year off to study abroad or whatever, but the Trillium Cup's home is Columbus.

And after many years and millions of dollars, Toronto has finally bought a competitive team! Yay! I'm very happy for the city and the fans; they've always deserved better. Now they have players like Herc Gomez who come off the bench, for cryin' out loud, so it was intense to watch at times. But then Pipa makes that chip, you just wanna celebrate that, right? Cup owned, playoffs claimed, no doubts.

There was a part of me wanting to show support for Kei specifically, he's had an amazing, incredible MVP season cut short on a bad call. So when a friend suggested on Twitter that we should go to the airport, it was a no-brainer. We joked a little about not having better things to do on a Saturday night, but really, it felt great to be there to applaud the team staff. Hopefully we provided a little energy boost for next Sunday.

- Evonne Segall

And that is a hope we can all share, I'm sure. With the playoffs now confirmed, and right around the corner, a big road win against a rival could be huge for this team. Even when the rival is Toronto.

It may have started off as a manufactured rivalry, but the Trillium Cup has grown to mean something, not just to the teams and organizations involved, but to the fans as well. We can only hope it's not the only piece of silverware the Crew are lifting this season.

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