A Decade of Service: U.S. Relationship with Crew Stadium Goes Beyond Numbers
Columbus Crew Stadium turns 10 years old in 2009, and after a decade of service it is impossible to deny the positive effect of the first soccer specific stadium in the United States. The numbers don't lie: since the U.S. played its first game at Crew Stadium in 2000, it holds an undefeated 4-0-3 record, recording 10 goals while conceding only one.
But the relationship between the U.S. team and Crew Stadium goes beyond just statistics, and as national team players from the Crew can attest, the symbiosis between team and fans runs deep in Ohio's capital.
"During the past two years the supporters' section has really grown, and the success we've had with the Crew has really turned Columbus into a soccer city,” said midfielder Robbie Rogers. “Everyone has been really supportive, and the fans love to watch good soccer. I'm sure they'll all be behind us for [the game against Mexico] and it'll feel like a 12th man on the field."
For U.S. supporters or opposing teams that visit Columbus for the first time, the prospect of that proverbial “extra man on the field” can feel very real. The seats rest so close to the pitch that the imposing wall of sound emanating from the fans on a cold night can be, quite frankly, pretty intimidating.
“It's a 'close' stadium in the sense that the fans stand right on top of the field,” said midfielder Brian Carroll who, like Rogers, plays his club ball in Columbus. “When you pack that to the brim, it gets really loud and the atmosphere is really great for everyone involved. Anytime we can play in a stadium like that, especially in a World Cup qualifier, it's going to be beneficial to the national team.”
In the pressure-cooker environment of World Cup qualifying, the advantage gained from a boisterous home crowd can often be the difference between three points and disappointment. For Crew captain and experienced U.S. defender Frankie Hejduk, that extra boost from the supporters is vital.
“The more U.S. fans that we have and the more support that we have, the more pumped up we get as players. I think being in the Midwest, in the heart of America, it's a place that we can play where we get a pro-U.S. crowd. It's no secret that when you play in some other places, even if you're the home team, it feels like you can be playing an away game.
“In Columbus we can get a home crowd. Especially [with the Crew winning the MLS Cup] this last year, the fans have come out in numbers and I would expect that it'll be even crazier for the game against Mexico."
As one of the longest serving players on the national team, Hejduk has seen much during his extensive international career. A veteran of four World Cup cycles, Hejduk has first-hand knowledge of the most notorious venues in CONCACAF, and he is quick to point out that Columbus is gaining that kind of stature in the region.
“I think that Columbus Crew stadium is becoming that place [that visiting teams don't want to go to]. Teams come into town now and they don't want to play there,” said Hejduk, who has appeared in 14 World Cup qualifiers in his career. “The fans have learned the game and they've come to appreciate the game more as well.
“They've taken it upon themselves to make the atmosphere as electric as possible, and that's what we need in the United States. Everywhere in the world fans take it personally when an away team comes to their home, and I think Columbus brings that type of atmosphere now.”
While modern stadiums come equipped with all the bells and whistles (see the MNT's trip to Wembley last spring), Carroll notes it is not so much the amenities that make the stadium, but rather the people filling it up.
“It's not extravagant, but it's a great soccer stadium, a great place to play, and a great place for the fans to come and watch a game. It has that traditional feel... I think there's a great deal of pride for the fans and for the players in that it was the first soccer specific stadium.”
In the geographic center of the Buckeye State, next week Columbus will resume its role as the center of one of the world's biggest rivalries. Just as in the past two World Cup cycles, the U.S. has called on Columbus to host their biggest match of the campaign.
“Every time we play there we have good results, and I think that's what it's all about,” said Hejduk who featured in 2005 when the U.S. clinched qualification for the World Cup and could get the call from Bob Bradley next Wednesday. “It has become known that the U.S. team wins games there, and I think that it's a great thing that Columbus has really accepted soccer into their community. They've embraced us and we're coming to this game thinking about nothing else but three points."