Columbus Crew SC hosted one MLS Cup Playoff game in 2014, a 4-2 win for the New England Revolution in front of just 9,074 fans. While the result was disappointing, the attendance figure was also discouraging after one of the best-attended years in Crew SC history.
This season has been rather different. Not only are the Black & Gold 2-0 at home in the playoffs and on the verge of reaching the MLS Cup Final, but so far are averaging 20,321 fans in the two games played at MAPFRE Stadium this postseason.
"It's amazing," forward Kei Kamara said in advance of Columbus' Eastern Conference Final first leg on Sunday. "The last game at home, the amount of people that were out there, it wasn't just the crowd. It was the energy that they injected in us, that was amazing. Just hearing a lot around town and getting text messages from people that maybe haven't been to the stadium saying, ‘Hey, we're coming to your game.' So it gives me the extra energy to be ready for the game."
The second leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Montreal Impact drew 19,026 supporters. Those in attendance saw Crew SC battle to a thrilling 3-1 overtime victory to advance to the Conference Finals.
Those who didn't make it out for the first playoff game made the trip to MAFPRE Stadium for the contest with the New York Red Bulls, as an overflow crowd of 21,617 witnessed a 2-0 win over the Supporter's Shield winners in the first leg.
Black & Gold head coach Gregg Berhalter is pleased with the atmosphere the fans have brought this postseason, first giving credit to the front staff and then the fans who have all played their part.
"First of all, I'd say that our front office has done a fantastic job of getting the word out about these games. They really have," he said. "The second thing is, the community has been so supportive of us. I really feel that this is the strongest support we've had so far since I've been here and it's great. It feels great and I know the players feel the same way. So we're appreciative of that."
It was apparent in both home games that Crew SC fed off the crowd's energy. Against the Impact, it was the fans that helped the Black & Gold dig deep beyond the 90th minute, but verses the Red Bulls it was the supporters that helped for a record-setting start.
"When we score that early, I think they were playing against us and our crowd, which is a great thing," goalkeeper Steve Clark said of Justin Meram's opening goal just nine seconds in on Sunday. "We definitely felt their energy. We felt the confidence that they give us."
With the Portland Timbers defeating FC Dallas 3-1 in the first leg of the Western Conference Finals, the most likely MLS Cup pairing is the Timbers at Crew SC, meaning MAPFRE Stadium may not be done hosting the Black & Gold for the season just yet.
While there are still games to be played, those in the front office are doing what they can to make sure the stadium atmosphere is just as wild as the first two home matches.
President of Business Operations Andy Loughnane released a statement yesterday explaining the high demand for MLS Cup tickets, as the potential game is already near a sellout. Once again, Crew SC will add bleaches to the north end stage and those general admission tickets can be purchased at MAPFRE Stadium now.
If the club is fortunate to make it to the Final and have it played at the home ground, the Black & Gold want your support. Berhalter said he feels it when the fans are in full force in one particular way.
"I take it in because I have to yell harder and then my voice is sore the next day," he said with a laugh. "So that's how I take it in."
Do you want Berhalter's voice to be hoarse on Dec. 7 the day after the championship match? Get your tickets now!