Saturday I took my son to The Ohio State Spring Game. It was his first experience in the shoe, it was 75º and sunny, the stadium was packed with more than 99,000 people, but it was easily the third most exciting event of my son’s day. You see, my six-year-old son Jonah has grown to love a different kind of football. While I swooned over seeing Troy Smith throw in The Shoe again (!!!!), Jonah was more impressed with the booming punts and field goal tries.
By the time we arrived on campus for the Spring Game, Jonah had already played a soccer game that morning. In fact, he played every minute of the game and never once asked for a breather. He was a good trooper throughout the 3-mile trek from car to stadium, and was genuinely impressed by the presence and scale of Ohio Stadium. But as the fans started to filter out of the stadium in the 3rd quarter, I could tell Jonah was ready for his sport, “Dad, can we go to the Crew SC game now?”
We made the journey back to the car, switched out his “Ohio State” shirt for a bright yellow tee, grabbed some food then headed to Mapfre Stadium, home of Columbus Crew SC. For those unfamiliar, Columbus Crew SC (the “SC" was added recently as part of a club rebranding) is one of the founding members of Major League Soccer and their stadium (Mapfre Stadium) was the first soccer-specific stadium built in the US. Parking took less than 5 minutes and the walk to the stadium was even faster. Our seats were close to The Nordecke, the north corner of the stadium jam-packed with loudest, and most passionate and unrelenting Crew SC supporters. The kid that a few hours before seemed embarrassed when I started big “OH-IO” chant was now singing along to and "Ohhh oh oh Columbus” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PvtbtR-Y9Y
) and begging me to buy him a vuvuzela. He guiltily enjoyed the PG-13 heckling of the opposing team's star players (You Suck Shea!!
), while I guiltily enjoyed the selection of local craft beers.
I like soccer. I coach my kids, I’m a member of the OVSL board of directors and I play FIFA on Xbox, but my soccer knowledge isn’t close to my understanding of basketball or even football. It turns out, you don’t have to be an expert to follow the game. Saturday’s game was a great one for the home side. Columbus beat Orlando City SC, an expansion team with a couple of big name players, Ricardo Kaká a former La Liga star on the back-end of his career and Brek Shea from the US Men’s National Team. Columbus won 3-0 and would’ve had a fourth if not for a close offside call. A red card dealt toward the end of the first half seemed to charge-up the crowd of 15,655 and seal Orlando’s ill fate. The goal to open the scoring was a beautiful back heel/drag from Federico Higuaín and after Kei Kamara made it 3-0 with a clever soft chip over the Orlando keeper, the win was secure. The Crew SC kept a remarkable 90% pass accuracy rate and kept Kaká in check (more or less) even with midfielder Wil Trapp still on the injury report.
Jonah enjoyed the win, but the highlight of his day came directly after the match. Columbus Crew SC invited everyone under 14-years-old onto the field to take a penalty shot against the team mascot “SC.” Jonah was more stoked to get on that field than he was to get on any ride at Disney World during our recent trip to Florida. He ran out in a rush, lined-up too straight-on with he ball and toed in a dribbler that SC let snake across the goal line with a great fake diving attempt to stop the shot. (https://youtu.be/iqSoU8iYoXQ
Jonah is the one in the silver jacket) If you ask him, he blames his poor attempt on the ball being an adult size 5 (he plays with a 3), but like he told me “it’s okay, that cat isn’t a good keeper.” He also asked me why we don’t have grass like that on his soccer league fields.
Saturday wasn’t my first Crew SC game and it certainly wasn’t my first day in Ohio Stadium, but visiting both on the same day really underscored the differences. It also emphasized some of the headaches we put up with for Saturday’s in The Shoe. Our 5-game passes to the Crew SC’s best games this season cost us about the same as a single Ohio State matchup against Miami (OH). Parking is infinitely less stressful, tailgating is comparable and local drafts and Jeni’s ice cream is served in the stadium. Young fans are a priority with on-field interactions, and games and play areas surround the stadium.
With the easy parking, Crew SC is easily 45 minutes closer to Marietta than Ohio State Football, even if it’s only geographically three miles closer.
Columbus Crew SC’s smaller venue creates a more intimate connection, much like the Columbus Clippers, while still offering the competitive atmosphere of a pro sports team. Will they ever have the fan support of The Ohio State University? No. But as our kids take soccer more seriously, as the Women’s World Cup approaches, as Ohio State football and Cleveland Cavalier tickets become harder and harder to get at face value, the Crew SC deserves a visit. If you have a kid in one of the several great youth soccer organizations in the MOV, you owe it to them to get to at least one Crew SC game.
Jonah and I will be there next when Clint Dempsey and the Seattle Sounders visit Columbus, we should carpool.