Five years and six days ago, I sat down with my brother on the east side of MAPFRE Stadium to cheer on the Columbus Crew in the MLS Cup final against the Portland Timbers. It was an ideal spot to witness the most important moments of the match. To tell you the truth, I don’t remember much after the first 18 minutes outside of the final whistle. But in those first 18 minutes, I remember everything. I remember Steve Clark’s blunder for Diego Valeri’s goal. I can still see the ball go out of bounds before Portland’s second. And I can see the Nordecke’s response, flinging beer cans at the celebrating Timbers players. After Kei Kamara’s goal, I don’t remember much else. But those first minutes are seared into my memory.
Beyond it being a final, the 2015 MLS Cup was a unique experience for me. Unlike I’m sure many of the other Crew fans in attendance, it was only the third ever Crew game I had been to. I didn’t have any Black & Gold gear to wear, and I certainly couldn’t name any of the players on the field. I really only ended up at the game by chance. A few months earlier, I won a student lottery for tickets to the Crew’s last game of the season against D.C. United. I took my younger brother and, after seeing how much fun he had, my mom got us tickets to the final as an early Christmas present. But if I hadn’t won that drawing, we never would have gone and I wouldn’t be a Crew fan today.
Since that heartbreaking final on a cold December day, I believe I’ve been to 60-something Crew games at MAPFRE Stadium. Each one has been special in its own unique way and I remember almost all of them, whether for a great win, a brutal loss, a penalty argument, or the insanity that is Ohio weather. Through it all, MAPFRE has felt like home, a feeling the 2020 version of the Crew has embraced wholeheartedly on its journey to give the old stadium one last hurrah.
Reflecting on the last five years, I’m confident the 2015 version of me wouldn’t have believed any of what was to come. It would have been shocking enough that I was supporting any sports team, let alone cheering and screaming at every match. I never could have imagined how important those games would be to me and my brother. Or how devastating it would feel to almost have it all taken away. I never would have guessed I’d attend a rally at city hall or take my Save the Crew scarf on a journey across the ocean to spread the word. Or how great it would feel for the unlikeliest outcome to come together and to see fans celebrate at surely one of the silliest alumni games in sports history.
Of course, there were also some stellar goals along the way. Like Harrison Afful bringing the tricks and treats against New York City FC in an emotional playoff match on Halloween 2017.
Or Wil Trapp’s midfield rocket against Orlando City. (What more can be said?!).
And Pedro Santos’ trademark goal to save the first league match of Hell is Real.
And who can forget Darlington Nagbe’s insane flick and volley to win the MLS Goal of the Year.
As Columbus’ third MLS Cup Final appearance draws near, I can’t help but feel like this is the end of a chapter in Crew history, at least to me personally. My Crew experience started with a Final in MAPFRE Stadium against a team from Cascadia. It’s only fitting that as my time as a student, and potentially as a Columbus resident, reaches its end, that this chapter of my Crew experience is capped with another final in MAPFRE Stadium against a team from Cascadia. Hopefully, this one will have a better outcome.
As I said, I never could have imagined any of this five years ago (especially 2020). It’s been one hell of a journey to get here for me, the fans, and the club. While only four players remain from that first team I watched, I’ve never felt a deeper connection with this club. Win or lose this final, it’s been an amazing experience supporting the Columbus Crew, and I can’t wait for every season and match to come.