PRE-GAME AND POST-GAME FESTIVITIES (PHOTOS BY Osvaldo Figueroa, Jr.
Is anyone surprised the last match at Historic Crew Stadium was worthy of the occasion and a revival of the venue’s greatest moments?
It was a No. 11 who scored the first goal in the stadium in 1999, and it was a No. 11 who scored the last on Saturday night, as the Crew beat Chicago Fire FC, dos a cero, in the final MLS match in the league’s first soccer-specific stadium.
In a game where what mattered more was the atmosphere in the stands than the performance, the supporters and the players produced an inspiring display collectively, as the Crew dominated its rival and the fans reveled in the occasion.
Gyasi Zardes gave Columbus an early lead in the 17th minute when he punished Chicago for failing to clear a corner kick. As the ball fell to the grass, Zardes volleyed a shot while leaning back and tied Jeff Cunningham, the first player who score in Historic Crew Stadium, for 31 goals in the venue.
Zardes added a second in the 34th when the Crew ditched their usual buildup play in favor of a Rt. 1 long ball. Jonathan Mensah played a through ball over the midfield to a wide-open Derrick Etienne Jr.
With Chicago keeper Bobby Shuttlesworth closing down, the Haitian winger had the presence of mind to pass the ball to Zardes, who all-but dribbled the ball into the goal.
To call the first half impressive would be an understatement. In a match that meant so much to the fans, the players showed equal inspiration and left the field at halftime to a standing ovation from the sold-out crowd. Everyone in the stadium knew only 45 minutes separated the Black & Gold from their final festivities in their 22-year-old home.
So, what followed in the second half wasn’t a memorable performance as much as an unforgettable night for supporters.
As the final seconds ticked on the scoreboard into stoppage time, Mensah began raising his arms, urging the fans to get louder and cherish the moment.
Once the final whistle arrived, there were scenes of jubilee, as plumes of yellow smoke rose inside the Nordecke as chants of “Glory to Columbus” rang out into the thick summer air.
Columbus native Josh Williams, who played the full match, struggled to find the right words to describe the occasion as he gave a post-match interview.
“That’s the most unique game I’ve ever played in,” Williams said. “I got a chance to come early and just sit here and look at the field. Normally, I’m so focused, if it’s raining, I don’t even know it’s raining. But in this moment, I wanted to take time and pay attention to everything going on, the fans, my teammates. You could tell it was a special moment for them. Everybody just wanted to come out and put on a good show, and I felt we did that.”
The supporters felt the same, too. As the center back spoke, his teammates circled the field with their families and applauded the fans for their support. Other members of the Crew, like Dante Washington, stood alone and gazed out into the yellow bleachers, appreciating the evening.
Washington, now the Club’s director of strategic partnership and business development, spent six seasons playing for Columbus, including the inaugural season 1996 season at the team’s first home, Ohio Stadium.
But soon head coach Caleb Porter waved his players toward the Nordecke, where chants of “Col-um-bus, Col-um-bus” echoed around the venue. Once everyone was together, the final rendition of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” was sung full-throated to match the momentous occasion.
“It meant everything for us to have this type of crowd,” Williams said. “You can tell these (supporters) were locked up for a year and a half, almost. The energy was electric, we appreciated all of it. It’s a special night not only for us and our families, but the whole city of Columbus. This was a hell of a night and I’m so proud to be wearing this crest.”
And just like that, the players walked off the field for the final time at Historic Crew Stadium. While it was a bittersweet moment, it was hardly a melancholy procession.
The Crew are riding a three-game winning streak and have played arguably their finest halves in the first 45 minutes of the last two games.
While Saturday night was about saying goodbye to the team’s first soccer-specific stadium, another opens in two weeks. Here’s to hoping similar performances from the players and the supporters will be replicated inside Lower.com Field.
The final Crew game in Historic Crew Stadium was everything we’d hoped it would be. The players started and ended the match on the front foot, while the capacity crowd was loud throughout the evening.
If the first game in the stadium was about hope – hope that special nights would follow inside the venue – the last was a fitting farewell to match the unforgettable games that took place between 1999 and 2021.
On Saturday night, the Crew left their home. But they didn’t leave it without reminding everyone how much it means to them, and how much it meant to us.