While the Columbus Crew SC and the rest of MLS are finally poised to return to play in early July, it will still be a few weeks before the games resume. In the meantime, the top European leagues are already back in action.
La Liga, the top flight in Spain, began play on Thursday and is the first major professional soccer league back after the German Bundesliga’s return last month. Just as we did with the Bundesliga, if you’re still soccer deprived, here are some suggestions if you want to pick a Spanish club.
The Crew has a few connections to clubs in Spain, starting with club captain Jonathan Mensah, who spent a year and a half on loan at Granada CF, making 15 appearances for the club in 2011. During his time there, Jonathan help the club gained promotion to La Liga from the second division for the first time in 35 years. Granada was eventually relegated, but returned to the top flight this season and have put together an impressive campaign, making a run to the semifinals of the Copa del Rey and currently sit ninth in the league table.
Former Crew star Federico Higuain also has a connection to a Spanish club, albeit through his brother Gonzalo. Gonzalo Higuain spent over six seasons at Real Madrid from 2007 to 2013, racking up 107 goals in 190 appearances before moving to Serie A club Napoli. Real Madrid is of course one of the most accomplished teams in Spain and on the planet, winning 33 La Liga titles — a record — and 13 UEFA Champions League titles. Madrid currently sit second in the league table, only two points behind league-leaders Barcelona. If you’re interested in Los Blancos, you can find more coverage of them on our sister site, Managing Madrid.
Crew fans may remember the far off days of 2015 when the club faced Valencia CF in one of its international friendlies. The only Spanish side the Crew has faced, Valencia outlasted Columbus in a 1-0 win (although Brad Stuver had a stellar performance in goal for the Crew). Valencia has won La Liga on six occasions and is the reigning Copa del Rey champions after beating Barcelona in a thrilling final last year. Valencia currently sits in seventh but is in the thick of the fight for a Champions League spot.
The Yellow Submarine
As fans of a Yellow Soccer Team, the natural next step for Crew fans may be supporting the club known as the Yellow Submarine, Villarreal CF. Known for their all yellow home kits, Villarreal earned the Yellow Submarine moniker during the 1966/67 season when a Spanish cover of The Beatles’ famous tune was released by Los Mustangs. The team enjoyed wide success during that season and earned promotion to the third division. Villarreal bounced between divisions for years afterwards but eventually cemented its place in La Liga in the early 2000s. While Villarreal is still a smaller club, many American soccer fans will know them for their signing of Jozy Altidore in 2008. After struggling last season, Villarreal is back fighting for a European place, currently in eighth in the league table. You can read more about Villarreal at our sister site, Villarreal USA.
For Fans of Mexico
While few Americans have played in La Liga, many of Mexico’s stars have plied their trade at clubs in Spain. If you’re a fan of Mexico, stars both past and present have connections to a number of clubs that might interest you. Currently, Héctor Herrera plays for Atlético Madrid, while countrymen Andrés Guardado and wonder kid Diego Lainez star for Real Betis. Current MLS stars Carlos Vela and Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, of course also played in La Liga, with Vela starring for Real Sociedad and Chicharito for Real Madrid and Sevilla.
In terms of past stars, big names to play in Spain include Cuauhtémoc Blanco, Rafael Márquez and Hugo Sánchez. Blanco (who, fun fact, is now Governor of the Mexican state of Morelos), spent two seasons on loan at Real Valladolid, the club now owned by Ronaldo (the original one). Márquez made 163 appearances for Barcelona over seven years at the club. Sánchez played in Spain for over 10 years, first playing for Atlético Madrid before moving to crosstown rivals Real Madrid. During his time in Spain, Sánchez made over 300 appearances and scored over 200 goals.
Unique Owners and Club Ideals
Crew fans are rightfully skeptical of club ownership groups, but Spain offers a couple of clubs that are either fan-owned or embody the ideals of their fans. The most notable example is SD Eibar, a small club in the Basque Country. Despite winning promotion to La Liga during the 2013/14 season, the club was faced with the prospect of demotion to the third division unless it raised almost €2 million. A campaign was launched to allow fans to buy shares of the club in order to raise the money. The campaign was a great success and Eibar is now owned by 8,000 fans in 48 countries. Eibar is still one of La Liga’s smallest teams, but has remained competitive and currently sit 16th in the league table.
As a Real Madrid fan, it pains me to suggest this, but I think Atlético Madrid might actually be a fitting club for Crew fans. Unlike Real, Atlético has a reputation of being the club of the working people, and the club always has to strive for attention and respect in comparison to its neighbor. Atlético always seems like it is on the precipice of greatness and regularly compete for top honors, but ultimately fallss short at the last hurdle. The team, of course, has achieved great things, winning La Liga in 2014 and reaching the Champions League final in 2014 and 2016. Atlético Madrid is a hardworking team and Crew fans would feel at home among its supporters and players. You can read more about Atleti and the team’s fight for a Champions League spot this season at Into the Calderon.
The final club suggestion is of course the league-leading FC Barcelona. While recently there have been significant disagreements between the club’s board, players and fans, Barcelona has always strived to meet their motto, Més Que Un Club (More Than a Club). The fans of Barcelona have always been politically and socially active, mainly in support of the region of Catalonia. They carried on this activism during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco and continue it now in the struggle for Catalan independence. I am sure many Crew fans would feel at home among Barcelona’s fans. It, of course, doesn’t hurt that Barca is one of the most successful teams on the planet. You can read more about Barcelona and the team’s fight for this season’s La Liga title over at Barca Blaugranes.
Whatever club you choose to support, it’s good to have soccer back.