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Crew fans take over MLS SuperDraft; ‘It was fantastic’

The Black & Gold faithful were out in numbers in Chicago.

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The story of the Major League Soccer SuperDraft every year is the players that get to live out their dream and hear their name called, turning them from collegiate players into professionals. But the 2019 SuperDraft had another major storyline: Columbus Crew SC was making picks.

Just a few months ago, it was in doubt whether Columbus would have a team going forward. Owner Anthony Precourt announced in October of 2017 that he was considering moving the team to Austin, Texas. For a year, Crew fans and the city of Columbus fought with the league to keep the team in town, going as far as beginning a lawsuit.

But just under a year after the announcement from Precourt, news came out that team doctor Pete Edwards as well as Cleveland Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam were in negotiations to purchase the team. Since then, progress has been made and on Jan. 1, the group took over investor-operator rights.

Just two days after Edwards and Dee Haslam were officially introduced to the media and fans, along with new president Tim Bezbatchenko and head coach Caleb Porter, the group was in Chicago for the SuperDraft.

But they were not alone. A collection of 51 Crew fans took a bus that was paid for by MLS from Columbus to Chicago to be in attendance for the draft. There, they met the Chicago-based Black & Gold group, “3-1-Crew,” to former an impressive Columbus representation.

“It was fantastic,” Bezbatchenko said of the fans showing up to the draft. “We outnumbered everyone in this room. The supporters just filed in, cheering. They gave energy to the draft floor.”

The fans met at MAPFRE Stadium at 4 a.m. on Friday morning. There, the supporters tapped a keg and began drinking beer before most people were out of bed. After an hour of tailgating, the bus arrived and the party continued all the way to Chicago. During the drive, the black and gold clap supporters watched the 2008 MLS Cup, the only league championship in team history.

When Porter, Bezbatchenko and the rest of the staff arrived at McCormick Place, the site of the draft, they were greeted by cheers from the Crew fans in attendance.

“It just reminds me every day why I came to the Crew, to see the passion,” the new head coach said. “The supporters, the fact that they got on a bus at 5 a.m. I heard and drove all the way here to be a part of this. I think they’re cherishing every moment just like I am and it was great to see them, it was great to talk to them and it’ll be even better on March 2.”

The fans in attendance had to wait 17 picks to see what the Black & Gold were going to do in the draft. When MLS commissioner Don Garber made the announcement that the Crew selected forward JJ Williams out of Kentucky, the Columbus fans went nuts.

“It’s amazing,” Williams said of the reception he received after getting drafted. “This is something you dream about for the longest time and it’s really nice to have some fans here, some guys that traveled. So it means a lot. You see a lot of people go up there and for that, it made it a lot easier. It made it feel like, I’m going and going to be performing in front of that fanbase everybody dreams about.

“You can only imagine. That’s a few fans, wait until you get into the stadium. Wait until you score a goal. Wait until you do whatever and then you’re celebrating with them. That just goes to show how amazing Columbus is and what they have to offer as a fan standpoint.”

It’s been a crazy ride for everyone involved with the Crew over the last year-plus. From thinking they were losing their team to getting the announcement of new ownership and a new stadium, Black & Gold fans have rode the waves.

Wednesday’s official announcement of the new ownership group and staff allowed these supporters to exhale. Friday at the SuperDraft was the celebration of a new season and a new era.

“It was just a great event for Columbus today,” Bezbatchenko said, “and I think it again just carries this momentum we had from the press conference the other day and it proves that we have the best fans in the league.”