Welcome to The view from the Nordecke, where I recap the most recent Columbus Crew game from the stands at Lower.com Field. This will be to bring you the sights and sounds of the game from the fans’ point of view.
I walk to the games from a parking spot in the Short North, and the first couple minutes heading south on High Street usually feature a few wayward glances from passersby on their way to chic dining or shopping. It’s understandable. They’re usually dressed to the nines, while I’m festooned with Crew gear. But once I rounded the corner of High and Nationwide Boulevard on Saturdaym I was an outsider no more. Here were a few thousand fans dressed just like me enjoying each other’s company, if not the winter temperatures, taking over Batelle Plaza. The crowd received their marching orders and streamed out just as I arrived en masse towards another season Black & Gold soccer.
Columbus has been a little bit of an Even Steven team the last few years. In 2019 the team missed the MLS Cup playoffs. The year after the Crew lifted MLS Cup. And then was out of the playoffs last season. So perhaps you can understand that opening day was pretty much bereft of tension in the stands: no expectation that anything short of a championship means failure. But hey, no sense of impending contempt bred by overfamiliarity with failure, either.
You really could not have scripted a better game to get the season going, except perhaps for the villain. The visiting Vancouver Whitecaps have not been to Columbus since 2018, and although all-time in central Ohio they boasted a 4-1-0 record, Saturday was not the team’s day. Sometimes opposing teams take on the mantle of antagonist among the fans, drawing ire and boos, and sometimes they’re just the anonymous “other guys” the Crew have to inevitably overcome. The Whitecaps fell into the latter camp on Saturday.
The Black & Gold started the match attacking the Nordecke end and went ahead after only eight minutes courtesy of Miguel Berry, who is fast becoming a fan favorite. Seventeen minutes later, the Crew doubled the advantage when newcomer Yaw Yeboah’s cross-field diagonal ball met the waiting foot of Derrick Etienne Jr. The stands were rocking and as the halftime whistle blew you would be remiss to have asked for much more.
Whitecaps head coach Vanni Sartini must have lit a fire in the changing room during the break because his team clearly came out in the second half ready to play. It takes time for the energy to rebuild in the stands after halftime, what with fans still making their way back from concessions, and a sense of unease began to creep in as the Canadians offered some stiffer resistance. It didn’t last long.
In the 53rd minute Vancouver defender Jakob Nerwinski earned a second yellow card and was dismissed. Luis Diaz added a third goal for the Crew in the 84th minute and by the time Lucas Zelarayan notched the fourth, the party atmosphere was in full swing.
Zelarayan was magisterial. The Argentine registered a goal and an assist but what endears him the most to the fans is his indefatigable energy and his ability to just make things happen out of nothing. When the Crew is playing badly, it means he shoulders too much responsibility and can come away frustrated. When the team is playing well, as they did Saturday, it means he becomes the creative engine behind this side. He is a joy to watch.
Return of the King(s)
A huge roar came from the crowd when Artur’s name was announced in the starting lineup. The Brazilian immediately showed his value by putting in a man of the match performance in midfield. He adds so much quality to this side and is as important as anyone to the team’s success. Also making a comeback was youngster Aiden Morris, a substitute in this game, his name sung to the rafters by the crowd after missing the 2021 season through injury.
Chant of the night
That would be “Hey Gyasi,” sung when its namesake made his appearance in the 73rd minute. Not every chant comes off perfectly every time but this one rang out in unison as Gyasi Zardes was extended the warmest of welcomes. The new chant “Battle Hymn of Columbus” sung to the tune of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” is my vote for the new chant of the season. It lends itself to crowds and everyone knows the tune already. The words, not so much yet. I had the chorus down pat but I’ll have to scan the giant “sing with us” QR code on the jumbotron to figure out what goes in between.
Miguel Berry opened up his account for 2022 sporting a headband. The Crew is now undefeated when Berry wears a headband. This concludes the inaugural edition of Berry headband watch.