This Saturday, the Columbus Crew’s first 2020 MLS Cup playoff game against the New York Red Bulls will be played at an empty MAPFRE Stadium. The club announced Thursday afternoon that due to the rising COVID-19 cases in Franklin County, the match will be played in front of only a small group of family members of the players and guests of the team instead of the usual 1,500 people. The tickets that were sold by the club for Saturday’s game will be refunded.
Columbus Crew Executive Vice President and Chief Business Officer Steve Lyons made this statement in the club’s press release on their website.
“Throughout this year, Columbus Crew SC has continued to recognize that circumstances surrounding the pandemic are fluid and as such, we have designed our plans to maximize flexibility and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances,” Lyons said in a statement “This week, after discussions with local health authorities, we informed Columbus Public Health and Franklin County Public Health today that although we are confident in our Responsible Restart plan and our ability to safely host supporters, we believe today’s decision is the right move for the best interest of our community.”
As for potential future MLS playoff matches at MAPFRE Stadium, the Crew stated that any updates regarding attendance would happen at a later date. If Columbus wins its first-round matchup against New York and Toronto FC loses in the first round, the Black & Gold would host their Eastern Conference semifinal game. Columbus is also guaranteed to host the Eastern Conference final should the Philadelphia Union fail to make that far in the single-elimination postseason tournament. Additionally, if the Crew wins the East, the Black & Gold would host the MLS Cup Final on Saturday, Dec 12.
This will be the first time since Sept. 2 that the Crew will host a match in Columbus essentially behind closed doors. At the regular season restart on Aug. 20 following the MLS is Back Tournament, Columbus opened play in front of an empty MAPFRE Stadium versus the Chicago Fire. The organization then decided to allow a small number of family members and guests for the Sept. 2 game against the Union.
COVID-19 cases have been increasing rapidly across Ohio, and specifically in Franklin County. Thursday afternoon, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine posted his daily map of Ohio showing the severity of COVID-19 spread in every county in Ohio. Franklin County reached the highest and most severe Level 4, which indicates severe exposure and spread of the coronavirus. It is the only county in Ohio at the highest level currently.
Responses have been made by Franklin County health officials to combat this fall spike of COVID. It was announced Wednesday that there would be a 28-day stay-at-home advisory that starts this Friday at 6 p.m. Ohio State Football announced on Wednesday the Buckeyes will not even allow family or guests of the team for Saturday afternoon’s game against the Indiana Hoosiers at Ohio Stadium. Governor Mike DeWine also recently announced a statewide curfew starting Thursday night from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. which will last for 21 days.
The Crew and the Red Bulls kick off at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday afternoon. The game will be broadcast locally on SportsTime Ohio and nationally on TUDN and UniMas and streamed on MLSSoccer.com.