Columbus Crew SC isn’t a national brand in the eyes of Major League Soccer.
The Black & Gold are rarely featured in the league’s marking campaigns and even less frequently appear on national television. Since 2014, the Crew has been one of MLS’s most consistent performers with an attractive style of play, yet the club has only been broadcast across the country eight times in the regular season over those five seasons.
On Sunday, Columbus is back on national television in a rivalry game against FC Cincinnati.
“When you don’t have many of them, you feel them more,” Crew captain Wil Trapp said of the television exposure.
The game marks the second-ever meeting in MLS between Columbus and Cincinnati. The two sides met for the first time as league foes two weeks ago in a testy contest that ended in a 2-2 draw. FC Cincy shocked the Crew, going up two goals in the opening 30 minutes of the match. Gyasi Zardes scored from the penalty spot before halftime and Pedro Santos had a strike from 30 yards out to pull level. At home, the Black & Gold had ample opportunities to win the game, but could not convert.
It was a fitting start to a young rivalry and perfectly set up Sunday’s contest at Nippert Stadium.
“I think this is a big one for us, especially with how the first one ended,” Crew defender Josh Williams said of the second Hell is Real Derby. “We felt like we missed out on a couple of points there and in ways, they probably feel the same.”
For Cincinnati, the league’s latest in an ever-growing list of expansion teams, national television has been a norm in 2019. The Crew, meanwhile, will be in front of national eyes for the first time this season.
After the last year-plus of turmoil regarding whether the club would remain in Columbus or move to Austin, which resulted in new ownership taking over the club, this is a new Crew team. Gregg Berhalter moved on to take over the U.S. Men’s National Team and Caleb Porter took over as head coach and Tim Bezbatchenko is the team’s new president and general manager.
While the results haven’t been what the team hoped to start this new era — the Black & Gold are 11th of in the Eastern Conference, ahead of only Cincinnati — the team feels the performances have been. The Crew believe playing in front of a national TV audience is the stage to demonstrate what Columbus will be going as a group in future seasons.
“I think any time you have the opportunity to showcase your club and your team and your players, you want to put your best foot forward,” Porter said. “We’re still going to continue to fight and give everything we have every single game until someone tells us we don’t have a chance. Of course we’re disappointed. We were so close in the last three games and things could be a lot different based on how we played... We don’t have time to look back. We’ve got to keep looking forward.”
As for the game on the field, MLS picked a good one to feature on FOX Sports 1. While the match between the Black & Gold and FC Cincy won’t have much in the way of playoff implications, it does mean a lot to players and coaches on both sides, so much so that Porter referred to it as similar to a Cup final.
“I think it’s described in that way because of what it means to the fans,” Trapp said. “What it means for the rest of the season. Truly we have to win every game and this is the next one but it’s also a huge one in terms of this rivalry and what it means and this second leg of it.”
With the future of the Crew now secure thanks to the Haslam and Edwards families purchasing the team in the offseason, Columbus is hopeful for more national exposure down the road. With a new downtown stadium coming in the summer of 2021, the Black & Gold hope to be on national television as much, if not more, than their Ohio rivals.
Until then, the Crew will settle for the occasional nationally televised experience and look to make the best of it.
“This is something we’ve been pushing for for a long time,” Williams said. “In the past, we haven’t been on national TV a lot, once maybe twice at most. So this is something that -- it’s a showcase for us. It’s a game for us to display exactly what we possess as a team. Not only that, it’s huge for the rivalry. It’s great for both cities”