Columbus’ newest sports stadium, Lower.com Field, finally opened to the delight of the city, team and supporters.
Sitting at the end of Nationwide Blvd. its caps off the Arena District joining the Columbus Blue Jackets’ Nationwide Arena and the Columbus Clippers’ Huntington Park.
More than 30 years ago, the area was a wasteland of old buildings, the old State Pen and open dirt fields.
The $314 million facility is the first second-generation stadium in MLS. The New England Revolution (7-2-3, 24 points) was the opponent on May 15, 1999, when Historic Crew Stadium, located on the North end of Columbus at the State Fairgrounds, opened as the first soccer-specific stadium in the league. But the team outgrew that stadium and needed a new facility to stay competitive with the other MLS teams who were getting new stadiums.
Saturday’s game did not start the way the Columbus Crew (4-3-4, 16 points) wanted it to, eventhough the home team was juiced up dominating play from the beginning by getting scoring opportunity after opportunity.
Canadian winger Tajon Buchanan of New England gave the visitors the lead in the 13th minute when he scored at the back post to head home the first goal ever at Lower.com Field. To the dismay of the sold out crowd, the home team was down 1-0. DeJuan Jones assisted on the goal with a beautiful crossing pass.
It got worse for the good guys in the 30th minute when the Revs scored again on a defensive breakdown in the box by Crew defenders.
Buchanan turned to assisting this time, setting up Gustavo Bou with a low cross from the six-yard box for a 2-0 advantage. Bou was left wide open and knocked the ball inf with his left foot. The 31-year-old Argentinian scored for the fifth straight game for New England.
The crowd was getting antsy. They didn’t come to the new stadium to see the Crew lose the opening game. It’s just not acceptable around here. But they tended to forget that New England is the best team in the MLS’ Eastern Conference and one of the Top 4 in the league.
That second Revs goal got the Crew working harder to get back in the game as halftime was looming.
The 39th minute came and Gyasi Zardes took control and scored the club’s first goal in Lower.com Field. The fan-favorite got into the 18-yard box and as he was moving across the box kicked a left-footed shot past goalkeeper Matt Turner. The new stadium erupted with a raucous roar. Score, New England 2 Columbus 1.
The second half was just exciting as the first but the fans were getting antsy as each minute ticked away and the home team had not tied the game up.
It finally happened in the 69th minute on a very weird play, which I personally have never seen in the 26 years I have covered the Crew and MLS soccer.
It was a New England own goal, which doesn’t happen very often either. Liam Fraser, whom the Crew has on loan from Toronto FC, sent a long ball from past midfield toward Zardes in the final third of the field. Revs Defender Andrew Farrell turned to keep up with the streaking Zardes and the ball richocheted off the back his head 20 yards from the goal, and it rolled past goalkeeper Matt Turner, who was moving forward and to his right tracking with Zardes and Farrell was also in chase to the open net. As the ball reached the line, all three collided into the goal. Turner tried to push the ball away but it went in off Farrell. The Revs were protesting to the refs that Zardes pushed their players into the goal. Refs said no. It was a good goal.
*Played without: Artur: hip; Aidan Morris: Knee and Bradley Wright-Phillips: thigh
*MAN OF THE MATCH: Gyasi Zardes