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Lower.com Field’s opening was a day of soccer and celebration in Columbus

A unique perspective from the first game at Lower.com Field.

Ralph Schudel

Oct. 16, 2017 was a happy day for me. It was my 28th birthday. I worked at my day job before returning home to celebrate the occasion with my close family and then play the newest version of the Madden football video game with a friend. All was right with the world.

Until 10:51 pm that same day.

Columbus Crew fans know the story by now. That’s when the infamous Grant Wahl tweet was published, announcing Anthony Precourt was looking to move the team to Austin, Texas, thus spurring the tremendous efforts of Save The Crew.

I feel that it’s safe to finally admit this, but I didn’t think there would be a positive outcome out of the whole situation. I thought Precourt, Major League Soccer and the legal representation would win and squash the grassroots movement before it even got off the ground.

Thankfully, I was wrong.

The fans, the team and the Crew lived to fight another day and ushered in a new era for the sport of soccer in the United States, looking to grow the team’s popularity within Central Ohio.

Having time to reflect and put my thoughts on paper, July 3 was pretty damn special. It was the end of a long and tiring journey for many and it represented an exciting new direction for the Crew and its supporters with the opening of Lower.com Field, the team’s new downtown stadium. Granted, I’ve been blessed with some special opportunities to see the finished product before the public, but nothing could prepare me for opening day.

As I strolled out onto the field for the first official game day, prior to taking photographs for Massive Report, I was greeted by the sight of the new and (dare I say, improved) Nordecke. It stood there in all of its glory as fans hung banners with the utmost care and gave the new stadium its own brand of German Bundesliga flair.

Walking over to my station in front of the Black & Gold supporters, I was pleasantly surprised to see how close the fans were to the action. It also allowed me to actually speak with the supporters prior to the game to gauge how they were feeling, a feat not previously possible at historic Crew Stadium.

With kickoff looming and the players walking out of the tunnel, the emotions finally hit me. Hearing 20,000-plus fans singing the national anthem, with fireworks going off around us and tears in my eyes, I thought, “We’re finally home, this is the end of the road.”

Once the game kicked off I allowed myself to take in the atmosphere and even recorded some clips from my vantage point.

I refocused on the game and everything else felt natural. It wasn’t until the final moments of the match that midfielder Lucas Zelarayan won a critical corner for the Black & Gold. You could feel not, just the Nordecke, but the entire stadium get invested into the outcome of the set piece opportunity. While fans witnessed moments like this historic Crew Stadium, I don’t recall being moved and feeling the crowd on the verge of exploding like that. Ever.

At the conclusion of the game, I returned to the photo workroom and took a moment to let what just happened on the pitch sink in. Once I completed my postgame responsibilities, I took a walk back out to an empty pitch.

Was it a dream? None of it felt real. But it was real.

Lower.com Field is our home, our workplace and the crown jewel of the Arena District. Crew fans get to call it ours and share it with the world. A feat that wasn’t thought possible just a few short years ago.

Enjoy this gift, share it with friends and cheer for the Black & Gold for years to come.