In the sports world, the road trip is synonymous with adversity. Playing away from a team’s home stadium comes with it the difficulty of traveling, tired legs and competing in a stadium full of people that are there hoping that you lose. These difficulties are made worse when it’s a streak of matches.
The 2022 groundbreaking of the MLS NEXT Pro development league put Columbus Crew 2 in the throes of this kind of adversity right away. In the team’s first three matches, the Black & Gold played on the road against Inter Miami II, Chicago Fire II and Philadelphia Union II. To head coach Laurent Courtois, it’s brought more than adversity.
“It’s not easy for sure,” said Courtois. “At the same time, I’m not gonna lie, it was kind of awesome for everyone spending time together, know what the experience is like, get to know the stadium, get to know the setup on arriving, preparing and debriefing. So really, as much as is not easy at all, it’s been also really a blessing and everybody enjoyed the process.”
The Crew 2 roster was brought together just two months ago. At the beginning of 2022, there was nobody on the roster and Friday features a full squad of players. Not only has it brought the team together, getting to know each other on competitive and personal levels, but it’s also brought results.
After three matches, Crew 2 sits in second place in the Eastern Conference with six points. After a 0-2 loss to Miami in the opening match, Columbus took all three points in Chicago and Philadelphia on the back of 1-0 victories.
Finally, the team finally gets a home-field advantage on Friday at Historic Crew Stadium.
“I think I speak for the whole team, we’re incredibly excited to be here,” said captain and midfielder Marco Micaletto after Thursday’s practice. “It really isn’t lost to us what this place means for the community, for the city and soccer as a whole. I mean, you look around, you see so much history. It’s like a museum in here and we’ll do our absolute best to make sure that this place is respected the way it should be.”
Not only does the team finally play in the house that Lamar Hunt built, but the grounds of Historic Crew Stadium reintroduce supporters to its yellow benches and seats. So far this season, crowd support has also been like a museum – very quiet.
To start the inaugural campaign, Crew 2 played in a nearly empty DRV PNK Stadium in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. While Chicago and Philadelphia each included some fans in the stands, Friday’s opener at Historic Crew Stadium has a buzz around it, a buzz suggesting that Friday will feature the most fans to watch the Crew 2 compete in 2022 in person.
Friday’s match has significance to it, being the first home match in the team’s history, but it doesn’t come without difficulties. It’s the first weekend of the season where both the senior team and reserves for the Black & Gold play at home. To make decision-making even worse, it also falls on the Easter holiday weekend when people travel out of the city to visit family.
Large crowd or not, the stadium is ready to welcome supporters back home, back to the first professional soccer specific stadium in the United States. Crew 2 hopes to pick up where the first team left off, after Caleb Porter’s senior team closed the stadium with a 2-0 victory against the Chicago Fire last season before moving to Lower.com Field. That win came seven months after Columbus lifted the MLS Cup on the same field after beating the Seattle Sounders 3-0.
Friday gives a chance to open another chapter of an already long book of soccer lore at Historic Crew Stadium. The message to supporters after Thursday’s practice was crystal clear.
“We’re looking for them to show out and help us make some history here,” said defender Abdi Mohamed.
That history begins Friday at 7 p.m. against Orlando City B.