It’s been roughly a month since Anthony Precourt’s now infamous announcement of his intentions to move the Columbus Crew to Austin, TX. The news came suddenly, its timing was ridiculously awkward, and it served as a shock to the system of the American soccer landscape.
Despite the fact that these developments surrounding the future of the club seemed to come out of the blue, this is something that’s been brewing for a while. In fact, every layer that gets unpeeled lends further credence to the notion that Precourt had this end game in mind as early as the time of his original purchase of the team.
All of it smacks of betrayal and disingenuousness on a grand scale. A team owner who came to soccer fans in Columbus with arms wide open was literally plotting behind their backs the whole time. But those actions have spawned an equal and opposite reaction that’s currently serving as North American sports’ most captivating grassroots campaign.
Save the Crew: North America’s Most Authentic Grassroots Sports Movement
Spearheaded by supporters of the club itself yet extending far beyond Columbus, the Save the Crew movement is a reminder that the prospect of MLS leaving Ohio’s capital city does not sit well with the vast majority of North American soccer fans. It’s an admonition to league executives complicit with Precourt. Rethink your priorities. Don’t sacrifice a segment of dedicated fans on the altar of blind profit seeking.
Over the past month, supporters of teams from virtually every level of professional soccer in the United States and Canada are delivering that message. The most prominent example has come in the #SaveTheCrew signage on display at recent matches from Vancouver to New York City and everywhere in between. It’s an inspiring example of putting rooting differences aside to come together in support of effecting change for the better.
But messages are much more effective when they coincide with action. Fortunately, that is taking place in a variety of ways. Over 2,000 people rallied in front of Columbus City Hall on October 22, less than a week after Precourt announced the potential move. A petition urging MLS commissioner Don Garber and the league’s investor-operators to prevent this from happening already has over 15,000 signatures.
That’s not the end of the action, either. Precourt and Garber say this is about “business metrics” and Columbus’ underperformance relative to other MLS teams. They say it’s about a dearth of corporate support in the Columbus area. But a report put together by Tim Myers contradicts and downright refutes many of their qualms. Even more damning is the fact that it hints the club’s 2017 regular season schedule set it up to struggle attendance-wise.
Inability to fill up MAPFRE Stadium won’t be a problem for the club’s next game. Tuesday’s Eastern Conference first leg tie between Columbus and Toronto FC is sold out and has been since early last week. ESPN is providing national television coverage in prime time, which serves as a great opportunity to showcase the organic authenticity of ordinary people putting forth an extraordinary effort to preserve a valuable Columbus civic asset.
It’s an asset that finds itself under attack from an individual who’s emerged as one of the biggest “wolf in sheep’s clothing” figures of recent North American sports history. And as more facts get unearthed, the nefarious manner in which he’s gone about trying to uproot said asset from the locale where it rightfully belongs becomes more apparent. That’s unacceptable to a growing number of people committed to ensuring it doesn’t take place.
On Tuesday, two teams vying for MLS Cup glory will do battle on the field. In the stands, Crew supporters as well as the 1,000 or so fans traveling from Toronto will be making their voices heard as they hope to cheer their respective team to victory. But there will also be a sense of unity behind a movement that transcends one’s fandom. It’s rooted in the notion that if this can be done to Columbus, it can be done anywhere. It’s all summed up fairly succinctly in the following sign you will most definitely see in the TFC section.
— ❤️TFC TIL I DIE❤️ (@ErikZarins) November 21, 2017
The past month has been an emotional and trying time for soccer fans from central Ohio. Their MLS original club which received the first charter among the ten founding franchises in 1996 is one season away from bolting town. But they’re not going down without a fight and the movement which personifies that struggle has become a nationwide and even international phenomenon. In a stadium full of American soccer history yet treated with contempt by Precourt, expect that phenomenon to pulse with a collective energy aimed at sending the following message: you can’t take this club away from us.