Supporters Groups Across MLS Come to Defense of Soccer Brethren in Columbus

Anthony Precourt
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Soccer in the city of Columbus, OH took a real gut punch this week. It began Monday night when Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl tweeted that Anthony Precourt was prepared to move the Crew to Austin, TX in 2019 if the stadium situation in Columbus doesn’t improve. The following morning, Precourt held a teleconference where his sentiment all but indicated his overwhelming preference for relocation.

The suddenness of it all gave American soccer its second body blow in as many weeks. Just seven days after the United States’ shock failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, the MLS original whose home played a huge role in the mystique of the national team over the last decade and a half might abruptly pack its backs and bolt town. The situation smacks of disloyalty and betrayal on a deeply troubling scale from ownership.

That fact becomes more evident as things become clearer regarding Precourt’s original intentions when he purchased the club in 2013. Despite outward assurances since then about his commitment to Columbus, the behind-the-scenes machinations centered on a move were in place long before Tuesday’s announcement. The more soccer fans across the nation become aware of this, the more they felt the need to express opposition towards it.

Supporters Groups Across MLS Come to Defense of Soccer Brethren in Columbus

Enter the supporters groups of literally every single team in Major League Soccer. During a depressing time of uncertainty regarding the future of the league in Columbus, they’ve come out in complete solidarity with Crew fans. It’s emerged in a variety of forms on social media. But perhaps the most inspiring example is fans changing their favorite club’s colors to black and gold. The following tweet from the Hudson Street Hooligans paints a uniform picture on how massive supporters across the league have been in that regard.

This immediate wellspring of grassroots support for Columbus soccer fans has also come in the form of official statements from team supporter groups. Perhaps the most prominent on Thursday came from the Timbers Army. Nearly two years ago, in front of a jam-packed capacity crowd at MAPFRE Stadium, they were in full force cheering Portland to its first ever MLS Cup. But recent events transcend results on the field and precipitated a heartfelt response.

Both above examples of a united front against the Crew leaving Columbus demonstrate the tight-knitted nature of American supporter culture. We’re all in this together. Yes, the game’s as popular as it’s ever been in the USA. Yes, there are possible growth opportunities in untapped markets. But the manner in which an outsider is attempting to pry away a team so intertwined with its community and the history of MLS is shameful. And as many fans around the country are emphasizing: if it can happen in Columbus, it can happen anywhere.

That’s why 22 team crests in black and gold colors along with pro-Columbus letters are only the beginning of an effort to keep this team where it rightly belongs. It requires both Crew fans and those from other teams across the league to let the higher ups know how they feel. That includes individual team owners as well as the league front office all the way up to commissioner Don Garber. And if you visit almost any MLS team’s Reddit page, you’ll find a pinned link at the top with information on how to do so. Talk about American supporter culture coming together.

The reception was even more pronounced on Sunday during the final week of the regular season. All across the league, supporters made it readily apparent that their sentiments were with Crew fans during this difficult and uncertain time. It came in the form of #SaveTheCrew signage gracing a multitude of MLS stadiums across the league. It just goes to show how much MLS fandom is on the side of fellow fans trying to save their club against derelict ownership.

Look, Precourt bought the Crew for somewhere in the vicinity of $65 million in 2013. According to Forbes, their current value is around $130 million. You do the math regarding his current return on investment. As Brian Straus noted in a recent piece for SI, Precourt needs to make this more about the club’s meaning to the Columbus community and less about his ego. If he no longer wants to keep the team in Ohio, sell to an investment group who will.

In the end, the most succinct advice worth heeding is the admonishment of the one and only Morgan Hughes. One of Crew fandom’s spiritual leaders of sorts, he makes it pretty clear what soccer supporters far and wide must do to stave off what would be a tragic end game. This club not only means so much to the Columbus community but gets involved in initiatives that better the Columbus community. For it to relocate on account of an overzealous adherence to profit motive would be another black eye to an American soccer landscape that’s taken too many hits lately.

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