Columbus is a college football town, it's an undeniable fact. This fact is often used, by people inclined to doing so, to argue that soccer "will never make it" here. On Wednesday night, however, Columbus proved that is not necessarily the case. Real Madrid CF and Paris Saint Germain played in front of an announced crowd of 86,641 at Ohio Stadium, the home of the football Buckeyes, and despite missing some key names (such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Luka Modric) still delivered an exciting night of soccer.
It was "only a friendly", true, but that makes the jam-packed Horseshoe all the more impressive. In a city that has been accused of being everything from indifferent to fickle towards soccer, the match was an indication that soccer not only can make it here, but in fact already has.
It was a largely pro-Madrid crowd based on the number of jerseys' for Los Merengues, but a diverse one. Dozens of teams, both club and country, were represented in the stands. This diversity in the crowd mirrored the diversity in the Columbus soccer scene in general, with fans of English Premier League clubs, La Liga, international teams, as well as our own Columbus Crew SC all turning out. Columbus is often in the top markets for both Premier League matches on TV, as well as USMNT matches, so this attendance shouldn't be a surprise to many.
The match itself was a better affair than many probably expected, considering the high profile absences. PSG sent out a stronger lineup, featuring starters like Edinson Cavani, Thiago Silva (who left after an early yellow card and injury) and Lucas Moura, and it paid dividends as they jumped out to an early 3-0 lead on the back of an early Jonathan Ikone goal followed by a Thomas Meunier brace. PSG played more physically than Madrid, who played their first match since the Champions League Final, and that energy and physicality showed on the pitch. Madrid played better as the half wore on, winning a penalty which was converted by the captain on the night, Marcelo. While far from full-strength squads or regular season mentality, the ICC delivered on its promise to bring exciting, top-level soccer to Columbus.
Wednesday night's match proved that "establishing soccer" in Columbus is not a battle that needs to be fought, because it's already been won. While there is still a disparity between the large numbers showing out for matches like the ICC or tuning in to ESPN for U.S.Men's Nation Team matches and those that show up at MAPFRE Stadium, the question the Crew face is not "How do we establish a soccer scene in Columbus?" but "How do we tap in to the thriving soccer community already in Columbus?". The fans are there. The groundwork is laid. No matter what people may think, Columbus is (also) a soccer town. If they ask for proof, point them to Wednesday, July 27th 2016 at Ohio Stadium, the night soccer packed out the Horseshoe.