Dispatch file photo of Crew Stadium at its 10-year anniversary. This is almost exactly the same spot I watched the first game in 15 years ago.
My dad — like most American dads, I presume, who ride motorcycles, are built like offensive linemen and as a hairy as our primate ancestors — was never much of a soccer fan. He might have coached me in soccer most of my life, but he didn’t, for the most part, like the sport, at least as a spectator.
And yet, I wouldn’t be the soccer fan I am today if it wasn’t for him.
I also wouldn’t be the soccer fan I am today if it wasn’t for Crew Stadium.
Fifteen years ago today, those two things converged.
I remember everything with a clarity that surprises me today. There I was, a lanky 17 year old, beside my dad in his pickup as he drove north on I-77 and then west on I-70. The sky was that beautiful shade of blue that crystalizes in your memory with a sharpness and splendor that only the most important days in your life do.
We were on our way to Crew Stadium. We were on our way to watch soccer. We were on our way to watch a professional soccer game two hours from our home in the first soccer-specific stadium in the country. We were on our way together.
Typing those words now, as I live less than two miles from Crew Stadium, has lost, admittedly, some of the weight they carried 15 years ago. But then, man. Then, I was beaming.
Soccer was my first obsession, but being obsessed with soccer as a teenager in rural southeastern Ohio declared a certain oddness of character to my peers and family. No one quite knew what to do with soccer, or, as a consequence, me. I often thought, as a kid, of my dad ruing that I was not bigger, that I didn’t play football, that I played soccer. But I know now how silly that was. I know now that he didn’t care what I played or how big I was. I know now because I have a son of my own. And so I know now, too, how happy he was to share these moments with me.
I remember exactly how I felt when we walked through the gates together, of seeing other Crew fans in a place we could call home. I remember the energy, the vibe, the excitement — everything.
I remember, just now, how impressed we both were that Michael Buffer (the “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble!” guy) made the opening announcements and then fighter jets rumbled overhead in a burst of supersonic speed shortly before kickoff. I smiled remembering this, but it gave the event an air of professionalism, of the big time, that seemed to be missing from our previous soccer games together.
Prior to this day, 15 years ago, I had been to my share of momentous soccer games. The first game at Crew Stadium was different. It legitimized not only the Crew, but as an extension me.
And there, with my father, it gave us a shared memory we’ll never forget. And now, all these years later, every time I take my own son to a game, I think about my dad and how his unselfishness spurred two generations of soccer fans.
And I also think of Lamar Hunt, and his unselfishness and his vision that led to that moment and all the moments and memories that followed.
It’s silly, maybe, but damn it if this day doesn’t mean something profound to me, and I’d be remiss if I don’t take time to remember it and hold it a little closer. This is the day our crew was born, and it’s meant everything.