OBETZ, Ohio – Three days after pulling off their second shocking Knockout Round upset in as many seasons, Columbus Crew SC will play in front of their home fans on Sunday.
On Thursday Crew SC advanced past a scorching hot D.C. United – away from home, in a penalty-kick shootout reminiscent of their 2017 triumph over Atlanta United. The win keeps them alive, and brings them back home to MAPFRE Stadium for the first leg of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series with the Supporters' Shield-winning New York Red Bulls (3 pm ET | ESPN, TSN – full TV and streaming info).
And while any tired team playing on short rest would be thrilled to see the home faithful in this weekend’s Audi MLS Cup Playoffs matches, this one may mean a bit more to Columbus fans.
“That’s a great feeling,” head coach Gregg Berhalter said at training Friday. “That’s one of the first things that came to my mind – we’re having a home game.”
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Fans and players alike have endured the possibility of a move to Austin for more than a year, but now new local ownership seems to have emerged that would keep the team in town. After Thursday’s match, Federico Higuain admitted it hasn’t been easy on players, either.
“It’s not good, of course,” he said. “It was a tough, tough year for us. But we’re here. We’re professional soccer players.”
Sunday will be just the second home match for Columbus fans since hearing the good news, and the team is expecting a great atmosphere after last Sunday’s regular-season finale was dampened – literally – by an hour-long lightning delay.
“We are so happy, and the fans too, because of everything that’s happened to the club,” said defender Gaston Sauro. “I think the fans need to have this moment and share it with us.”
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Shootout hero Zack Steffen agreed.
“It’s huge,” said Crew SC’s goalkeeper. “Especially with the news that’s surrounding the city and team and organization, it’s awesome. We love playing at home. It’s the best stadium in MLS, and we love being in front of our fans.”
More than just providing a good feeling, Berhalter said he expects the home game to boost his team. Between Columbus’ run to the 2015 MLS Cup final and last season’s Eastern Conference Championship appearance, Berhalter’s teams have gone 3-1-1 in their stadium in the postseason.
“The fans have been great,” Berhalter said. “When I think about our playoff history, we’ve had a good run with our fans at home.”