There’s more to soccer culture than the professional game, which is why we’ve put together guides for each of MLS’ 19 markets. With Columbus Crew SC reaching the MLS Cup final, they'll host the Portland Timbers on December 6.
Here’s the lowdown on what to do and how to do it.
Soccer culture in Columbus has become a mixed bag since new investor-operator Anthony Precourt arrived. And that's not a bad thing.
Founded in 1996, the MLS original club has plenty of older, diehard fans. But Precourt and new president of business operations Andy Loughnane have made it clear that a younger fanbase is a goal, emulating markets like Portland and Kansas City. MAPFRE Stadium, the country's first soccer-specific facility, may be aging but its historic importance can't be denied. Still, rumors of a future downtown stadium – which many believe is necessary – persist.
- MLS CUP 101: What you need to know about the title game
WHERE TO PLAY
Having Ohio State University in the backyard is a blessing and a curse for Columbus soccer fans.
There's almost always a pickup game to be had on one of OSU's many fields, but the rabid football – and sometimes basketball – culture in the city often detracts from focus on Crew SC, as evidenced by a diluted crowd for last year's playoff match. Flush with universities, many Columbus green spaces become impromptu soccer fields during seasons with better weather.
The Mid-Ohio Select Soccer League dominates youth play in the area, while many adult leagues – thanks to Ohio's weather – find homes at area indoor facilities like the Resolute Athletic Complex and Soccer First.
- The North Market: The historic, downtown North Market contains more than 30 restaurants and other eateries and is easily the best choice in the city for a variety of grub. From barbecue and pretzels to Polish and Vietnamese fare, there's something for everyone. Also inside is Jeni's Ice Cream, perhaps the city's hottest export.
- Schmidt's: As they rebrand, Crew SC have focused on the city's German heritage. And there's no better source for German cuisine than Schmidt's, a fairly famous and authentic German restaurant with enough reputation to be featured on the Travel Channel's Man vs. Food.
- Dirty Frank's Hot Dog Palace: If you are in town for a sporting event, there couldn't be a better hidden gem than a hot dog. Frank's serves countless varieties, offering toppings that range from brisket to crushed potato chips and bacon.
- Honorable mentions: Lavash (Mediterranean), Cap City Fine Diner (comfort food), Barcelona (Spanish)
- Fourth Street Bar and Grill: It's become the official home of Crew Union and one of the most common places for supporters to watch matches and pregame, given its proximity to MAPFRE Stadium.
- Hendoc's: This small local bar is the home of the Hudson Street Hooligans and a favorite of longtime fans.
- Honorable mentions: Fado, The Pub, Claddagh, Three Legged Mare, Westie's
WHERE TO VISIT
- Ohio State University: From the famous Oval to the massive Ohio Stadium, OSU is filled with sights to see, particularly in warm weather. A walk around campus would take you an afternoon, at least, but there's plenty to see.
- The Short North: Particularly for the young and hip visitor, the Short North is the place to be in Columbus. Countless galleries, performers, boutique shops and eateries litter the streets during the summer, especially if you're in town for a gallery hop (the first Saturday of each month).
- Center of Science and Industry (COSI): COSI is renowned nationwide for its commitment to making science entertaining, and there are few who wouldn't enjoy an afternoon spent at the center, particularly with kids. COSI is also located next door to the Scioto Mile, a Riverwalk-esque renovation of a downtown bank on the Scioto River.
- Columbus's zoo is frequently listed at the top of "best zoo" lists in the country, and is home to animals you've likely never seen before. It's easy to spend a few hours or a full day exploring all the zoo has to offer, let alone log some time at the neighboring water park.
- Honorable Mentions: Franklin Park Conservatory, Topiary Garden, Columbus Museum of Art
A Crew SC match day is the ultimate clash of cultures. Resident crazy person and superfan Frankie Hejduk and the supporters groups are screaming, singing and partying, while soccer moms and their kids sit just across the stadium.
The Nordecke – where rowdy fans and supporter groups sit (stand) – is consistently the ambassador for Crew SC fans: loud, undeterred by weather and creative. The fan gamut collides on game day to great effect.
- Walk: Despite not having a downtown stadium, there are plenty of places to park within reasonable walking distance of Crew Stadium. Just don't cross the train tracks; police have been known to give tickets for that.
- Sit in the Nordecke: There's not a bad seat in MAPFRE Stadium, but the Nordecke is the place to be. The northeast corner of the stadium hosts these ruffians, and if you pick the right day, you might be a part of one of their excellent tifo projects.
- Stay for autograph alley: Crew SC players are almost always very friendly with fans, and several sign autographs after each match. Not only could you meet a player, but you'll miss the logjam of traffic leaving the stadium.