Tonight Orlando City is in Columbus to take on the Crew in Ohio for the potentially the last time ever. It’s a momentous occasion for the Lions as the Crew are one of the most important teams in MLS history. This morning, we look back at the Crew’s importance to American soccer and Orlando City’s history playing the league’s lone yellow team.
On Aug. 1, 2013, Precourt Sports Ventures, led by Anthony Precourt, purchased the Columbus Crew from the Hunt family. A league that once had all teams operated by just three operators, MLS was working toward having each team operated by a separate group. The Hunt family selling the Crew was seen as a step forward.
Precourt’s contract allowed the Crew boss to move the team to one location, Austin, TX. Last year, Precourt made his intentions of moving the team to Austin known. Citing a lack of revenue and declining attendance in Columbus, it was reported that the Crew could relocate for the 2019 season if a stadium and investment solution was not found.
The Crew relocating to Texas would be a sad day for MLS as the Crew were not just one of the original 10 teams in MLS, but the first team to be announced. The 2008 MLS Cup champions would be the only one of the original 10 teams not to remain in its original city. The San Jose Earthquakes, originally the Clash, did relocate to Houston in 2006 but a new Quakes team returned two years later, maintaining their name, colors, and history.
The Crew take us back to a time when all MLS teams played in NFL or college football stadiums. When it was questionable whether the league and sport would take hold in this country. They were also the first MLS team to build a soccer-specific stadium, of which there are now 17, one being built, and three being planned. With the other nine original teams, they are a key part of the significant growth of soccer in the United States.
From a national team perspective, it will be sad to see the home of “dos a cero” to no longer host a professional team. The United States’ rise from complete insignificance to Concacaf power was based at Mapfre Stadium, despite the last World Cup cycle. That’s a lot of history replaced by a city that has had several teams fail.
Unfortunately for Orlando City, the club hasn’t had much of an opportunity to travel to this important soccer city, only doing so for three league games so far. The first game was in April of 2015, which was most noticeable for defender Rafael Ramos getting sent off right after his mistake led to the opening goal. The Crew would go on to win that game, 3-0. The following July, the Lions returned, this time pulling off a 2-2 draw with goals by Kevin Molino and Cyle Larin. Last April, the Crew came away with a 2-0 win in Ohio’s capital with a pair of goals by Justin Meram.
Meram didn’t travel with the Lions to Ohio this weekend, extending what has been a frustrating season for the midfielder. It’s a difficult blow for Meram who was looking forward to a homecoming after spending his first seven MLS seasons with the Crew, accumulating 188 league appearances. His impact would’ve been intriguing as he has been a big part of the Crew’s success against Orlando City, providing an assist in 2016 and a brace last season.
Any sports team relocating is never a good thing and it is even worse when that team holds the significance to a league and sport as the Columbus Crew does. Assuming the two don’t face off in the playoffs, Orlando City will make its lone trip to Columbus tonight, possibly playing in that city for the last time. If so, it will be one to remember for the club.