On Nov. 22, the Columbus Crew announced the team’s first home match of the 2022 Major League Soccer regular season, which will take place on Feb. 26 against the Vancouver Whitecaps. On Wednesday, the Crew joined MLS in releasing the full 2022 schedule.
Like any year, there are details that catch supporters’ attention when the schedule is released. Let’s look at highlights for the Black & Gold in the upcoming 2022 season.
A critique of the Crew’s past schedules has been the front-loading of home matches. Matches in March and April in Central Ohio are a crapshoot for the weather, as unpredictable conditions bring unpredictable attendance. With the 2022 season starting earlier than ever, there was a fear that this would be a major issue.
The MLS season starts on Feb. 26 because the 2022 World Cup beginning in late November. While Columbus does play its first home match of the season on opening day, the breakdown of home matches throughout the year is fairly balanced.
In the first half, the Crew plays seven of 17 games at Lower.com Field, while the second half features eight home matches. Although five of these contests are before April 30, 10 of the last 18 games take place at Lower.com Field, giving the Black & Gold a boost in any potential playoff race.
In 2021, Columbus had only four MLS home matches in the team’s first 10 games, as construction continued on the club’s new downtown stadium. This year gives a more realistic view of how Crew schedules could go in the future. There is no longer a need to make accommodations for the Ohio State Fair or Quarter Horse Congress that took place at the fairgrounds during the summer months and often put the Black & Gold on the road for multiple matches during those times.
Part of the beauty of having this new stadium on land that isn’t shared for other events is that the schedule can be more balanced, which is the case at least in 2022.
Western Conference elite
For the matches themselves, the Crew has a challenging road ahead. There are of course the Eastern Conference foes, like two matches against 2021 MLS Cup champions New York City FC and 2021 Supporters’ Shield-winning New England Revolution. What sticks out even more, however, are the non-conference opponents, or lack thereof.
Like the rest of the East, Columbus faces eight Western Conference clubs. Of those eight, six represented the conference in the 2021 MLS Cup playoffs. Included in those six are Nashville SC, who joins the Western Conference after two seasons in the East.
The Black & Gold play all four Western Conference quarterfinal participants. Three of those games are away trips to Sporting Kansas City, Real Salt Lake and the Colorado Rapids. The Portland Timbers, who were a penalty shootout away from winning the 2021 MLS Cup, visit Columbus on Sept. 18.
From the two teams that didn’t make the playoffs in 2021, LAFC visits Lower.com Field on May 21. It’s the first California team to visit Columbus since May 2019, when Columbus took on both LAFC and the LA Galaxy within three days of each other.
A notable absence from the schedule is no match against Austin FC. For the half of Crew supporters that like organic, non-trillium-based rivalries, welcoming former investor-operator Anthony Precourt’s team to Lower.com Field would be a great way to let off some steam that built up over four years — especially after Columbus traveled to Austin to face the expansion team a year ago. Instead, supporters have to wait at least another season.
Columbus sports conflict
Now that the Crew plays downtown, the team has sports neighbors. Right next door to Lower.com Field are the Columbus Clippers, triple-A minor league baseball affiliate to the Cleveland Guardians. A little further down the road are the Columbus Blue Jackets of the National Hockey League.
The Black & Gold and Clippers will share Nationwide Blvd. at least five times in 2022. April 16, April 30, June 18, Aug. 6 and Sept. 3 all feature scheduled competitions for both teams. Clippers game times are still to be determined, but weekend night games are frequent for baseball in Columbus.
Otherwise, the Crew doesn’t compete for attendance for any remaining Blue Jackets games in 2022. That could change once the 2022-23 NHL schedule is released, but until then, most of the season supporters won’t have to choose between the two.
There’s another team in Columbus that garners a little bit of attention. The Ohio State Buckeyes football team share two dates with the Black & Gold. Unfortunately, one is Sept. 3, when Notre Dame and Ohio State, two historic college football teams, will play at Ohio Stadium. Although there’s no set time for the game yet, a first-week matchup of the college football season featuring Ohio State and Notre Dame doesn’t have a noon game written all over it, although times have changed in college football.