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Happy birthday, Crew: Celebrating 25 years of Black & Gold excellence

The first club in Major League Soccer celebrates its 25th birthday.

Frankie Hejduk lifts the 2008 MLS Cup for Columbus Crew.
Columbus Crew SC

On June 15, 1994, Columbus, Ohio was introduced to its first professional soccer team, the Columbus Crew.

The Crew was named as the first of 10 founding teams that made up Major League Soccer. Lamar Hunt and his son Clark became the owners of the club, along with the Kansas City Wizards in 1996 when the league formed.

Introducing their first players such as Doctor Khumalo and Brian McBride, the Crew eventually got things underway under the direction of the team’s first head coach, Timo Liekoski on April 13, 1996, defeating D.C. United 4-0 at Ohio Stadium. After spending two seasons at the Horseshoe, the Black & Gold began the 1999 season at their new soccer-specific stadium. Crew Stadium was the first professional soccer-specific stadium in the United States.

In the innagural game at Crew Stadium, the Black & Gold defeated the New England Revolution in front of a sellout crowd of 24,741.

That 1999 season saw Columbus finish with a 19-13 record, worthy of second place in the Eastern Conference. However, the team eventually lost to United in the Eastern Conference Finals for the third straight year.

Following the season, superstar Stern John left the club after scoring 52 goals in just 65 games for the Crew. The 2000 campaign saw Columbus acquire forward Dante Washington from the Dallas Burn to replace John.

The club won its first major trophy in 2002, capturing the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. On the path to glory, the Black & Gold defeated the Richmond Kickers, the New York/New Jersey Metrostars and the Wizards before beating the LA Galaxy, who had just been crowned MLS Cup Champions, at home.

Club legend Brian McBride played his last season with Columbus in 2003 before moving to Fulham FC of the English Premier League.

The Black & Gold earned their second piece of hardware in 2004, winning the Supporter’s Shield for having the best record in the league, setting a then-franchise record for points with 49 after an 18-game unbeaten streak to end the season. Despite the successful year, Columbus was eliminated from the playoffs in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Columbus hired veteran MLS coach Sigi Schmid after a struggling 2005 season. In 2006 after going winless in 13 games, owner and founder Lamar Hunt tragically passed away.

The fortunes of the Crew Columbus changed in 2007 when the team acquired Argentine international Guillermo Barros Schelotto and forward Alejandro Moreno. The team missed the 2007 postseason but theses two, along with others, would be the cornerstone of what was to come the following year.

In 2008, the Black & Gold realized a long-awaited dream by bringing home the MLS Cup. Not only that, Columbus won their second Supporter’s Shield in franchise history.

Following the season, Sigi Schmid left the club to become the coach of expansion side, Seattle Sounders, which led the way for former player and assistant coach Robert Warzhycha to become the team’s new head coach.

Although the Crew won the Supporter’s Shield in 2009, the quest to defend their MLS Cup Champion title was cut short after losing to Real Salt Lake in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

A slide downhill began in 2010 under Warzycha. After finishing the season 14-8-8, Columbus lost to the Colorado Rapids in the postseason’s first round. The Black & Gold made it to the U.S. Open Cup final but lost to Schmid and the Sounders, 2-1 on the road.

The club struggled, losing in the wild card round against the Rapids yet again in 2011, and then just missed the playoffs in 2012. After a 1-0 loss to a 10-man Sounders side for more than half of the match, Columbus and Warzhycha parted ways in September of 2013.

Fast forward, and Columbus welcomed Gregg Berhalter and Anthony Precourt in 2013. In his first year as both head coach and sporting director, Berhalter managed to get Columbus back into the playoffs, but lost by a landslide to the Revolution in the Eastern Conference semifinals. It was the start of something new, and many Columbus Crew fans noticed it.

In 2014, the club underwent a rebrand. Out with the old and in with the new, the Columbus Crew rebranded their name and logo to become Columbus Crew SC. New Crew it sure was.

The club made its return back to the MLS Cup Final in 2015, hosting at what is now called MAPFRE Stadium (formerly Crew Stadium) againsth the Portland Timbers. Unfortunately, Columbus saw their Western Conference foes lift the MLS Cup on their home soil, losing 2-1.

For the first time under Berhalter, the Crew missed the 2016 MLS Cup playoffs.

October 17, 2017, struck havoc in Columbus when Sports Illustrated reporter Grant Wahl broke news on Twitter that Precourt was exploring the option of moving the Black & Gold to Austin Texas.

This caused much uproar, tears and determination that the famous chant from the Nordecke “We Shall Not Be Moved,” rang true. Thus was born the Save The Crew movement.

After countless meetings, press releases, business trips and an eventual lawsuit in March of 2018, it was officially announced that Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and longtime team doctor Pete Edwards were in negotiations to buy the club. Almost a year later, the Crew was handed off to the Haslam and Edwards families, which took effect on January 1, 2019.

As part of the new era, Columbus brought in former Toronto FC president Tim Bezbatchenko and former University of Akron and Timbers head coach Caleb Porter to run the team.

So here we are, 25 years later, and Columbus Crew SC is still an existing and thriving MLS franchise.

Thank you for 25 years of excellence. Here’s to many more! Happy birthday, Columbus Crew SC.