One week ago, 30,160 fans, most cheering for FC Cincinnati, packed into Nippert Stadium for a U.S. Open Cup triumph over Columbus Crew SC. Over the weekend, the Black & Gold again ventured south to the lively Bobby Dodd Stadium where 44,922 fans cheered on expansion side Atlanta United to a 3-1 victory.
What’s happened on the field over the past week for Columbus has stung, but what’s more painful is what’s happening off the field, in the bleachers of MAPFRE Stadium.
Attendance averages for the Black & Gold’s 2017 season are a shave above 13,000 through eight home matches — the lowest since 2011. For quick comparison, the 2016 season (one most Crew fans would like to forget) saw an attendance average of 17,125. That’s a little over 4,000 less per game from last year thus far.
While it’s only halfway through the season, Crew SC has, at the moment, the worst attendance of any MLS team. Even Real Salt Lake supporters continue to trudge to the stadium better than the black and gold clad.
Granted, Columbus’ recent poor form isn’t doing anything to help encourage enthusiasm among both casual and faithful fans, and weather has been an issue in several home games. The struggles seem to be the excuse many have retreated to, a mixture of ‘Why support a team that blows it late in games,’ ‘I don’t like Gregg Berhalter,’ ‘Our defense is nonexistent’ and ‘I want a shiny new stadium.’
The excuses go on and on into the social media madness of impulsive and brash finger strokes.
Taking a look at reality can help put things into perspective. Columbus is still very much in the playoff hunt. In fact, even with the recent poor form, the team’s sitting sixth in the Eastern Conference, above the red playoff line. Five of Crew SC’s seven wins occurred at MAPFRE.
It’s not perfect but it’s enough to be optimistic about a home match — enough to be at the stadium on game day.
This may sound crazy, but maybe a team does better in front of passionate supporters. It’s not too bold to say average teams can be elevated by caring fans (just look at FC Cincinnati). To all those ruminating profound questions of the Crewniverse, it may help to ground any lofty aspirations. Many noble and wise sages of Massive Report have repeated through oral tradition an old adage that is, at this time, worth sharing: MLS will MLS.
What does that mean? Well, in a league like Major League Soccer, there are rarely dominate teams, especially for prolonged periods, and almost never for consecutive seasons. Often, the on-field play is a relatively even matchup. Chance usually plays a large role over performance (as proven by a handful of Crew losses). Anything goes in the United States’ top soccer league. A last place team can beat a first place team and it’s not that mind-blowing.
In MLS, it helps to temper expectations and think one game at a time. MLS will MLS.
Crew SC is as like any team in the league. Arguments concerning what side is best can only be made in margins. Win, lose, playoff logjam, and hope for an end of the season run to propel a strong playoff push.
Every team, more or less, shoulders along neck and neck. Even the ones who have seemingly pulled away, like Toronto FC and the Chicago Fire, could just as easily be reeled back throughout the second half of the year. Even Kyle Beckerman might just have enough magic in his dreadlocks yet to give Salt Lake a late season boost.
Anything goes. MLS will MLS.
Support your Crew. Now is the time of the season when it matters.