Crew View: A look into the team's past, present and future
Goodbye to Historic Crew Stadium, COVID attendance restrictions and the perilously brief Columbus SC era, and hello to the new Downtown stadium
By now, the average Columbus sports fan has probably heard about the Crew’s new stadium and the contentious rebrand (and re-rebrand) surrounding the team. But did you know that the franchise formerly known as Columbus SC also has continued to play soccer during all of this drama, with increasing success and excitement? Or that the final game at the stadium formerly known as Mapfre is scheduled for June 19, with clearance for a full capacity crowd? Or that the first game at the venue soon to be formerly known as New Crew Stadium is set for July 3, also with potential for a full house? Or that in between, they’ll travel to Austin to battle Anthony Precourt’s new team for the first time?
There is much more to know about all this, and you will know it after reading through this timeline of a momentous and sometimes tumultuous 10-week stretch — a timeline that, if you’re viewing this on its publication date, begins in the past and ends in the future. You, reader, are in the midst of Columbus Crew history.
April 26: Columbus Crew SC sends non-disclosure agreements to the board of directors overseeing the Nordecke, the club’s hardcore supporters section. They are invited to a secret meeting. Exciting!
May 7: Not exciting — infuriating! At the Crew’s new Experience Center in the Short North, a front office contingent led by president/GM Tim Bezbatchenko reveals that the team is changing its name to Columbus SC, keeping “The Crew” as a semi-official nickname a la “The Tribe,” and swapping out its widely beloved crest for a new logo featuring a jagged C inside the outline of an Ohio flag. Response is hostile, with one fan reportedly calling Central Ohio native Bezbatchenko a “traitor.”
May 8: After a drowsy 0-1-2 start, Columbus posts its first MLS win of the year over DC United — a 3-1 victory powered by a Lucas Zelarayán score plus two own goals by hapless DC — but the mood is tense in the Nordecke and among Crew fans online as rumors about the rebrand start to spread.
May 9: A grainy photo of the Columbus SC’s new logo emerges on Twitter, ruining Mother’s Day for many Crew-fan moms. The reporter who posts it, The Athletic’s Pablo Iglesias Maurer, deems it even worse than the Chicago Fire’s widely ridiculed rebrand. In their first public statement on the matter, the Nordecke says they’re “deeply saddened” by the rebrand, particularly the omission of “Crew” from the club’s official name.
May 10: A day earlier than planned, Bezbatchenko and the team’s executive vice president and chief business officer Steve Lyons officially announce the rebrand at a press conference. Per Bezbatchenko, “When we started to think about what our new mindset and mentality was and how we want to take Columbus to the world, it felt like this needed to happen.”
May 12: The serious global brand affectionately known as “The Crew” plays its first game as Columbus SC, a 2-0 away loss to Toronto FC. It’s actually played in Orlando because Canada is not letting its MLS teams play home games right now, but Toronto does not require much of a home-field advantage against a team in the midst of an identity crisis both on and off the pitch.
May 16: The second game of the Columbus SC era is another loss, this time a grueling 1-0 defeat at New England. The silver lining for Crew fans: ESPN’s broadcast crew is talking up an imminent meeting between the Crew’s ownership group and the Nordecke leadership to discuss the rebrand.
May 17: At said meeting, the Haslams and Dr. Pete Edwards pitch the supporters on a switch to Columbus Crew (dropping “SC” forever) and a tweaked version of the new crest replacing the goatee-esque triangle at bottom right with a 96 commemorating the team’s inaugural 1996 season. The Nordecke brass shakes on the deal and releases a joint statement with the owners expressing solidarity going forward. The sordid Columbus SC era is over, though as many online observers point out, it at least lasted longer than the European Super League.
May 22: As if a curse has been lifted, the Crew enters its post-SC epoch with a stunning comeback win at New York City FC. After trailing 1-0 for most of the match, Columbus ties the score on a stunning free kick by Zelarayán in the 82nd minute. In the fifth and final minute of stoppage time, they get their winner via another set-piece golazo from Zelarayán, who becomes only the sixth MLS player since 2003 to bang home two free kicks in the same match. (His Crew predecessor Federico Higuain did it on Aug. 25, 2012, as well).
May 29: In the Crew’s first home game since the rebrand debacle, the good vibes continue, and Columbus even gets some goals from players other than Lucas Zelarayán. First-half strikes from Luis Diaz and Gyasi Zardes (his 50th for the Crew across all competitions) secure a 2-1 win over Toronto heading into a break for international competition, pushing the Crew’s record above .500 for the first time this year to 3-2-2.
June 8: This is today. Hi. No Crew news to report, but did you see that insane U.S.-Mexico game the other night?
June 9: The Crew holds a ribbon-cutting ceremony at OhioHealth Performance Center, the new training facility they're opening at the site of Historic Crew Stadium.
June 19: Historic Crew Stadium hosts its final MLS game, a showdown with Chicago. After months of competitions with limited attendance due to the fight against COVID-19 — including an MLS Cup 2020 that saw Columbus hoist the trophy in front of a fraction of a sellout crowd — the Crew plays at home without capacity restrictions for the first time since March 1, 2020.
June 23: Columbus faces defending Supporters Shield winners Philadelphia on the road.
June 27: Remember when former Crew owner Anthony Precourt tried to move the team to Austin, setting off a multi-year saga that culminated in the triumph of the Save The Crew movement, pending the construction of a new downtown stadium? In their final match before opening up that new stadium, the Crew travels to Austin to battle Precourt’s expansion side Austin FC for the first time. Intense!
July 3: New Crew Stadium, which by this point has a newly revealed corporate name, opens with a game against the first-place New England Revolution, the same team the original Columbus Crew Stadium hosted in its inaugural match on May 15, 1999. It is the end of this timeline — and the latest of many "The Return of the King"-like epilogues for the Save The Crew saga — but in a larger sense it marks the beginning of a new era for the Columbus Crew.