The United States struggled to find any stadium in the country that could be a true home for them. Most everywhere they went, they were welcomed by either opposing fans or empty seats and that was especially true against Mexico. It didn’t matter where they played their rivals — it was a sea of green.
Then February 28, 2001 happened. The U.S. played Mexico in a World Cup qualifier at Crew Stadium in Columbus, OH and they had a legitimate home-field advantage. The crowd chanted "U-S-A" all match and the stadium was awash in red, white and blue. The Americans found a home.
The U.S. have been back to Crew Stadium — now MAPFRE Stadium — for four straight World Cup qualifiers against Mexico now, all of them 2-0 wins. On Friday, they’ll go back one more time and U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said he’s not taking the match anywhere else until the Americans lose to their rivals at the stadium. But Gulati and U.S. Soccer may not have the choice of playing at the venue for long.
The Columbus Crew have begun looking at building a new stadium. They’re doing a feasibility study and owner Anthony Precourt has been open about beginning to look at alternate sites for the team. They’re not giving up on their current stadium yet, but a move downtown is awfully tempting, if they can make the money and politics work.
It’s understandable that the Crew are considering their future too. MAPFRE Stadium was the first soccer-specific stadium in MLS and it was built at a time when nobody was sure whether MLS would survive, or whether a soccer-specific stadium could sustain itself. The venue was built on the cheap and, 17 years later, not only does it need upgrades to keep it functioning, but the rest of the league has long passed it by.
MAPFRE Stadium is essentially a glorified erector set. It offers few amenities and has nearly no comforts, let alone bells and whistle. This is at a time when their competitors like Sporting Kansas City have built palaces like Children’s Mercy Park. And with Atlanta United, Minnesota United and LAFC coming into the league, MAPFRE Stadium will only look worse.
But while moving to a new stadium would be great for the Crew, the U.S. national team would have lost their favorite home. The day MAPFRE Stadium goes down, a piece of American soccer history goes with it. A new venue could be terrific and U.S. Soccer would probably look into putting the U.S. vs. Mexico match there to keep it in Columbus, so long as the Americans keep winning, but MAPFRE Stadium has an aura and history about it that a new stadium wouldn’t.
The Crew aren’t moving anytime soon. There are still years left on their lease, plus they could choose to upgrade MAPFRE Stadium and ensure the Americans’ favorite home for decades. But as they begin to look at other options, the U.S. have to face a potential reality too — their may not have their beloved stadium for much longer.
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