Growing up in Pittsburgh, soccer fandom was always a fun distraction for Ryan Kutschbach. Now it's "kind of like a way of life."

Growing up in Pittsburgh, soccer fandom was always a fun distraction for Ryan Kutschbach. Now it's "kind of like a way of life."

Kutschbach loosely followed world power Manchester United and the minor-league Pittsburgh Riverhounds before his profession as an air traffic controller brought him to Columbus in late 2008. His arrival here happened to coincide with the climax of the Crew's 2008 title run, and he happened to choose Claddagh Irish Pub in the Brewery District as his first local hangout - then the primary hub for the fervent soccer supporters in Crew Union.

Soon Kutschbach fell in with the Crew crazies. As a former Penguins season ticket holder, the black and gold color scheme just seemed right; more importantly, he was instantly attracted to the communal feel of the fan base.

"I'll go out for people's birthday parties, bachelor parties, go out for other sporting events," Kutschbach said. "It totally is like a family atmosphere."

The familial feel extends to the Crew players, coaches and staff. Kutschbach frequently encounters Crew icons such as coach Robert Warzycha and former player Duncan Oughton tipping back pints among the fans at bars like Fado and 4th St. Bar and Grill.

"They're not superstars," he said. "They're just normal people like you."

Kutschbach now considers himself part of a super-supporters class, a handful of fans that join every supporters club and show up for every Crew-related event, from bus trips to fan forums. On weekends, he dons a massive sombrero in the Nordecke - at least, when he isn't dressing up like Jesus for Halloween and taunting opposing players with threats of eternal damnation.

The only notch missing on Kutschbach's fan resume is a Crew-related tattoo among his sprawling array of body art.

"They'll be coming along shortly, I'm sure," Kutschbach said. "Maybe Guillermo (Barros Schelotto) on a luckdragon."

Photo by Alysia Burton