In 1999, the Columbus Crew became the first top-division soccer team in the United States to christen a soccer-specific stadium. Fast forward 23 years and the Black & Gold are set to celebrate one year of habitation in their second soccer-specific stadium. Now, after a year of difficult form both at home and away, it’s the stage for a hopeful return to the top tier of Major League Soccer.
Sunday marks the Crew’s one-year celebration at Lower.com Field, the downtown stadium that was a by-product of the Crew’s 2018 saving from relocation to Austin, Texas. Last year, Columbus welcomed the New England Revolution, the eventual Supporters’ Shield winners, to open the second soccer stadium in Ohio’s capital city.
The Revolution went up two goals in the first 30 minutes and New England winger Tajon Buchanan twice stood in front of the Nordecke holding his finger to his mouth to silence the rowdy home support. Former Crew forward Gyasi Zardes and an entertaining Revolution own goal negated Buchanan’s attempted shushing and Columbus earned the club’s first point in the first match at Lower.com Field.
A year later and the Black & Gold again welcomes a top MLS side to the club’s home. This time, it’s the Philadelphia Union, who are in a tie for first place in the Eastern Conference but in third on goal differential.
Since Lower.com Field opened, it hasn’t been the fortress that Columbus and the team’s supporters had hoped. Across 21 MLS regular season matches since July 3, 2021, the Crew is 11-7-3 at Lower.com Field. It isn’t a bad record, but it doesn’t match up to head coach Caleb Porter’s record at leading the Black & Gold at Historic Crew Stadium.
Porter’s sides faced seven regular season defeats at both stadiums the Black & Gold called home in his tenure, but they’ve played 10 fewer matches at Lower.com Field. That doesn’t mean Lower.com Field has been a bad stadium. It’s anything but.
Lower.com Field better represents the city in which it is built, is located inside downtown Columbus and has featured non-MLS moments of glory. So far, the United States National Team has had three wins in the stadium, two for the men and one for the women. The Crew also lifted a trophy on the well-manicured field, winning the Campeones Cup against Cruz Azul on Sept. 29, 2021.
All four of those moments were great ways to show off the new stadium but haven’t helped the Black & Gold find the form needed to repeat their 2020 accomplishment of winning the MLS Cup.
Oddly enough, so far in 2022, it’s away matches that have yielded Porter and Columbus most of the team’s points. Although the Crew has played one more away game than home, the Black & Gold have 11 points in those away matches. After winning only three games outside of Central Ohio in 2021, Columbus already has two victories away from home this season with eight away games remaining.
Sunday’s one-year celebration provides the Crew an opportunity to earn a home win after the Black & Gold played two matches in five days.
“This week is a long one,” said Porter this week. “We need to get off the road, get home and recover because we have a big one at home. I think we’ve proven that we can get points on the road, but we need to now get the job done at home in front of our supporters.”
Black & Gold supporters have turned out in a big way since the stadium opened. In 2019, the last time Columbus had a full season with fans in attendance, Historic Crew Stadium averaged 14,856 supporters per match, ranking 21st in a league of only 24 teams.
So far in 2022, the Crew is 13th in average attendance across the league, averaging 18,993 per contest, filling better than 93 percent of the stadium per match. This is a marked improvement in the stands by supporters in hopes that the on-field play follows suit and Sunday has the potential to be that tipping point for the remainder of the Black & Gold’s season.
There are a few reasons why.
The first is momentum. Wednesday night, Columbus won its second match in a four-game unbeaten streak at Toronto FC following a wonderful strike by midfielder Sean Zawadzki and two assists from new signing Jacen Russell-Rowe.
Philadelphia also played Wednesday but lost 1-0 against the Chicago Fire after going down a goal and a man in the second half. That man who earned a red card was midfielder Jose Martinez, a Venezuelan midfielder who’s important to the Union and started all but one match so far in 2022. Both teams playing also takes being tired out of the conversation excuses for a loss.
Also, the Crew has the added motivation of losing to the Union earlier this season on the smallest of mistakes after goalkeeper Eloy Room dropped the ball past the goal line in the second minute of play. What followed was a suffocated 88 minutes where neither side could break through. Sunday offers a chance for redemption and the first opportunity to see what the Black & Gold can do for a full 90 minutes.
Lastly, the four-match unbeaten run combined with the arrival of record signing Cucho Hernandez amps up the excitement of a team that still holds the core group that won the 2020 MLS Cup. While Hernandez can’t play until the transfer window opens on July 7, just being in the city and training at the OhioHealth Performance Center is cause for celebration.
Porter hopes to see that kind of celebration on Sunday.
“It’s the year anniversary of the stadium,” Porter said, “so we need to get that thing rocking.”