Massive Report concludes our countdown of the 15 most memorable moments in Crew Stadium history based on voting from the staff. Join the discussion on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using the hashtag #MRStadium.
It was unanimous. While recency bias does exist, there is absolutely nothing better than winning MLS Cup in front of your home fans. The Columbus Crew’s MLS Cup victory on December 12, 2020, against the Seattle Sounders is the most memorable moment in the 22-year history of historic Crew Stadium.
Nine months prior, no one thought an MLS Cup Final would happen as the COVID-19 pandemic forced Major League Soccer to suspend its season. The virus spread rapidly and forced the entire world to sit idle in their homes as the pandemic began. The delayed season continued and the time between the last Crew game and the next Crew game grew larger.
When MLS returned in July with the MLS is Back Tournament, Columbus looked like a championship team with three group wins. That form continued when the regular season resumed in late August with the Black & Gold ahead in the Supporters’ Shield standings for a healthy chunk of 2020. The team made the MLS Cup playoffs behind the remarkable saves of Eloy Room, Jonathan Mensah’s relentless defense, Lucas Zelarayan’s creative ability and Gyasi Zardes goal-scoring touch.
That regular season run was accompanied by some positive news about the pandemic. Cases decreased and news of a vaccine being developed provided hope. Even as cases began to rise again, the Crew was able to welcome 1,500 supporters for three months, no fans were allowed for the first MLS Cup playoffs game against the New York Red Bulls.
The Crew won 3-2 but that success was followed up with horrible news. Six to eight Crew players tested positive for COVID-19 and were forced to miss the Eastern Conference semifinal against Nashville SC and the Eastern Conference final against the New England Revolution. Columbus won both matches with clean sheets and convincing play and the unforeseeable happened. Despite being the third seed in the East, the Crew was set to host the MLS Cup Final for the second time in the history of Crew Stadium.
Columbus’ opponent, the Seattle Sounders were well on their way to becoming one of the great MLS dynasties. It was certainly a tall task for an underdog Black & Gold side who found out 48 hours before kickoff that starters Darlington Nagbe and Pedro Santos would both miss the final after receiving a positive COVID-19 test and the doubt about the game crept in. How could the Crew beat the Sounders without its best midfielder and an in-form winger?
The night came at historic Crew Stadium with the trophy lighting up the night sky and fans neatly entering the last high-stakes game at this stadium. This Crew squad has been through it all: injuries, COVID, losses, re-schedulings, fatigue. But that didn’t stop the Black & Gold from one of the best performances in Crew history.
Columbus controlled the game in the first half and in the 25th minute, Harrison Afful sent a surging cross to the back post to Zelarayan who poked the ball past Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei for a 1-0 lead. Six minutes later, a similar play occurred as Derrick Etienne Jr. received the ball at the back post and curled in a beautiful finesse shot to build the lead further.
The second half was the Aidan Morris show. The 19-year-old Homegrown signing was selected to start the game in place of Nagbe, becoming the youngest starter in MLS Cup Final history. He became a hero in Columbus as he fought for every ball and never gave up when the lights shined brightest.
The Sounders couldn’t find space to score and when they did create an opportunity, Room was there to deny or Mensah or Josh Williams just cleared the ball. In the 82nd minute Zelarayan found space and lasered a left-footed shot into the top corner the give the Crew a 3-0 lead.
Shortly after, the final whistle blew and the Black & Gold were the MLS Cup champions for the first time in their home stadium. They didn’t just win, they dominated.
It was indicative of everything the stadium was built for. The game made American history and provided a home for the hardest working team in MLS where the Crew never gave up and fought to the last minute, no matter the circumstances.
Read Massive Report’s full Crew Stadium Moments