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Three Years After Nearly Moving, Columbus Crew Back in MLS Final

Minnesota United midfielder Osvaldo Alonso (6) tries to take the ball from Columbus Crew midfielder Lucas Zelarrayan (10) during the first half of an MLS soccer match in Kissimmee, Fla., Tuesday, July 28, 2020.
Reinhold Matay
/
AP
Minnesota United midfielder Osvaldo Alonso (6) tries to take the ball from Columbus Crew midfielder Lucas Zelarrayan (10) during the first half of an MLS soccer match in Kissimmee, Fla., Tuesday, July 28, 2020.

Columbus Crew SC and MAPFRE Stadium take the national stage Saturday as the Crew battle for the most-coveted trophy in American professional soccer. It’s hard to imagine a bigger turnaround from 2017, when the club appeared likely to move to Austin, Texas.

Saturday’s final
The Crew host the Seattle Sounders FC inside MAPFRE in what is a send-off of sorts for what was once a trend-setting stadium in American sports. The team moved into MAPFRE, the country’s first soccer-specific professional stadium, in 1999. In 2021 they’re expected to move into the new downtown Crew stadium.

If they win their second MLS Cup in club history, the Crew will have to do it without midfielders Darlington Nagbe and Pedro Santos. The club says neither has been medically cleared to play. Columbus also announced it had a player test positive for COVID-19 in testing results received Thursday. It’s the second player to test positive this week, but the Crew have not announced who the players are.

“They just need to play their game. It’s been successful all year,” says Pat Murphy, who covers the Crew for the website Massive Report. “They’ve been a very good defensive team, one of the best in the league.”

Seattle is the defending MLS champion and are playing in the Cup final for the fourth time in five years.

Ups and Downs of 2020
Like all Major League Soccer teams, it’s been a wild 2020 for the Crew. They played two matches before the league halted the season last spring to limit the spread of coronavirus. They returned for a “bubble”-style tournament in Orlando last summer and played well before eventually losing.

MLS returned to regular season play two weeks later. The Crew finished the season 12-6-5 before defeating the New York Red Bulls, Nashville FC and the New England Revolution in the playoffs to reach the Cup final.

A run that nearly didn't happen
The success of 2020 is a far cry from October 2017, when Crew fans were reeling from the announcement by then-owner Anthony Precourt that he was exploring a move to Austin, Texas. Precourt cited corporate sponsorships and poor attendance as reasons for looking into relocating. A series of lawsuits and a massive grassroots effort helped “Save the Crew” a year later when a new ownership group including team physician Dr. Pete Edwards and Jimmy and Dee Haslam stepped in to buy the Crew.

“It’s certainly in a better place than it was under Anthony Precourt” Murphy says. “I think that’s there’s just been more effort put into making this team sustainable in Columbus, and it will be up to the fans and needs to continue to be a growing fanbase to make this work.”

The future of the Crew will play out in the new downtown stadium, which is expected to open during the summer of 2021.

While it might not be a nice stadium in a trendy neighborhood, Murphy says fans will miss MAPFRE.

“It was something American soccer fans had never really seen,” Murphy says. “It’s going to be sad to say goodbye.”

MAPFRE won’t be going away entirely. The stadium and surrounding area will become the club’s practice facility.”

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