If you were hoping to see your favorite Columbus Crew SC players live on Thursday when Major League Soccer resumes its regular season play, there was some disappointing news on Monday evening. The Crew announced that fans will not be permitted at the match against the Chicago Fire on Aug. 20.
The Black & Gold hoped to have a limited number of 5,875 fans, in order to follow physical distancing, in the stands. The team’s proposal to both the Columbus Public Health and the Ohio Department of Health was not approved as of Monday.
In addition, the parking lots surrounding MAPFRE Stadium, where many fans tailgate before home games, will not be open for supports on Thursday. The Crew will make future announcements about the possibility of fans in the stands for the team’s upcoming scheduled home games as part of Phase 1 of MLS’s return-to-play.
“We have spent significant time, energy and resources on the development of a robust return to stadium plan that prioritizes the health and well-being of our players, fans and community,” team president and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko said. “However, given the current state of the pandemic, we will not be hosting fans at our match this Thursday night. We will certainly miss having our supporters cheer us on from the stands in our first game back in Columbus. As we move forward, we will continue to prioritize their health and safety while we navigate the challenges of the current pandemic. As things develop, we will continue to work with MLS as well as our local government and health authorities to determine whether we will be able to host fans at MAPFRE Stadium at some point during the season.”
According to the press release announcing this decision:
Crew SC has collaborated with government health officials, medical experts, industry leaders and MLS and worked hard to develop a comprehensive venue reopening plan for MAPFRE Stadium. The Crew remains ready to host a limited number of fans with health and safety as our highest priority if and when the necessary approvals are secured. Crew SC recognizes that circumstances are fluid and as such, the Club has designed its plans to maximize flexibility and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances. Crew SC looks forward to continuing to collaborate with the State of Ohio and local public health officials in Columbus on its venue reopening plans. In the meantime, the Club will follow the guidance of MLS and execute robust safety and sanitization protocols for players and staff at MAPFRE Stadium as it does its part to ensure a safe continuation of the 2020 MLS season.
Crew SC’s re-opening preparedness at MAPFRE Stadium is guided by seven key principles: 1) physical separation, which includes a reduced capacity and specific circulation plan to maximize six feet physical distancing inside the stadium; 2) face coverings, which are required for everyone in the stadium; 3) health screenings, which include daily temperature screenings and symptom monitoring for all staff, as well as a fan health promise; 4) robust cleaning and disinfecting protocols throughout the venue; 5) comprehensive hygiene protocols for all supporters and staff; 6) clear signage and communication, including wayfinding, posted education and protocol materials that will be posted for fans and staff; and 7) accountability and flexibility in the form of robust plan governance, compliance and audit protocols along with continuous review and adjustment to evolving circumstances.
After Thursday’s match against the Fire, the Crew will have back-to-back road games against New York City FC on Monday, Aug. 24 and FC Cincinnati on Saturday, Aug. 29. The Black & Gold return home to welcome the Philadelphia Union to MAPFRE Stadium on Wed. Sept. 2 and Cincinnati on Sunday, Sept. 6. The final game of Phase 1 for Columbus will take place on Saturday, Sept. 12 at the Fire.
MLS hopes to then move to Phase 2 to finish out the regular season. That schedule has not been announced at this time.