Editorial (January 8, 2019) — Throughout the fiasco that ultimately proved a quixotic attempt by Anthony Precourt to relocate the Columbus Crew, supporters continuously uttered a similar refrain: respect your roots.
Appreciate this club’s history which is inextricably linked with that of Major League Soccer’s. Stop peddling the false narrative that the locality of the team was the problem. And make a concerted effort to engage the community so that the ideal of “club and city, together as one” doesn’t ring hollow.
With Precourt out of the picture, failing to adhere to those axioms is no longer a problem. For the new ownership group, spearheaded by the Edwards and Haslam family, are all-in on Columbus. Their commitment to reinventing this MLS original as part of a continued urban renewal of Ohio’s capital city showcases a vision that Precourt lacked.
That much is certain considering the scope of their proposal. A new stadium for the Crew isn’t the only new facility that’s in the works. It will ultimately be part of a revamped neighborhood known as “Confluence Village” that will also include new residential and office buildings.
The future plans for the club’s current facility, MAPFRE Stadium, also demonstrate that the new owners have a firmly ingrained sense of community. In addition to constructing MLS-caliber training facilities, the redeveloped site will also include a variety of recreational sports offerings to the public, including soccer.
These developments ostensibly reinforce the fact that the future is bright. It’s a rather glaring contrast to just a few months ago when uncertainty abounded and the movement to keep the Crew in Columbus was still hard at work. Those efforts ultimately paid off and serve as perhaps the greatest grassroots success story of 2018.
But what’s also refreshing about this new era is that it’s a return to roots of sorts. Obviously, the most prominent example is the fact this is the first time in team history that the Crew are under local ownership. But it also comes in the form of its new on-field and front office leadership.
New head coach Caleb Porter is well and truly familiar to Crew fans. And not necessarily in a good way. Just over three years ago, he led the Portland Timbers into Columbus where they won their maiden MLS Cup. But prior to that, his first major coaching success came in Ohio. And just like with Portland, it was a first for the team he was in charge of. That triumph came in 2010 when he led the Akron Zips to their first-ever college soccer national title.
And then there’s team president Tim Bezbatchenko. His Columbus connections come from him being a native of Westerville, a suburb northeast of town. He definitely brings a distinguished track record of success. During his tenure as Toronto FC general manager, he helped turn a team that had been a dysfunctional mess for most of its time in MLS into a champion. Their 2017 MLS Cup run included accumulating a then league record 69 points during the regular season.
Of course, no effort at giving a nod to the Crew’s rich history is complete without a social media element. Nowhere is this more evident on Twitter. When Precourt rebranded the team, he also basically retired the #Crew96 hashtag in favor of #CrewSC. His relocation intentions precipitated a lot of supporters active on Twitter to bring it back. Now that Precourt’s gone, the Crew public relations team has done so.
The first press release of the year, which officially announced the moves to hire Porter and Bezbatchenko, was just the latest example of the clean break with Precourt. That becomes abundantly clear when scrolling all the way to the bottom. Though the SC is still around, the #CrewSC hashtag is no longer.
On Wednesday, the latest event that marks the exciting new direction this club is taking gets underway with the new ownership addressing the media for the first time. They will also formally introduce the club’s new head coach and president. What underscores the importance of the occasion is that MLS commissioner Don Garber will attend. Not only that, but legendary MLS forward and now ESPN personality Taylor Twellman is emceeing the event.
It’s all part and parcel of the following truism. Saving the Crew was the right thing to do. Those who’ve helped MLS grow into a burgeoning presence on the world soccer stage generally subscribed to this idea. Though the odds seemed lofty at times, the men and women committed to an endgame that saw the club staying put never stopped believing. Because the Columbus Crew are a foundational cornerstone of this league’s identity. Thankfully, they’re also a gleamingly visible staple of its future.