There’s been so many milestone moments in the rich history of MAPFRE Stadium and Josh Williams has had a ticket for many of them.
With the Crew set to open a new downtown stadium next year, MAPFRE Stadium will host one final big event with MLS Cup Saturday (TV & streaming info). And Williams, who has carved out a starting spot alongside Jonathan Mensah in central defense, will be there again.
“It’s hard to put into words, man,” Williams said after the Crew defeated the New England Revolution 1-0 in the Eastern Conference Final. “Growing up as a fan, realizing the dream, kind of that transition from fan to a player and then starting here as pretty much the 30th man on the roster to now having a significant role.”
The immediate aftermath of an emotional playoff win isn’t always the best time to get introspective, but that’s just what Williams did when he thought about MAPFRE Stadium’s magical nights, including Williams’ former Crew teammate Kirk Urso, who tragically died in 2012 from from arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy at the age of 22.
“This means so much to me and it means a lot to everybody. There’s so much that goes into this for me personally,” Williams said. “I think of Kirk Urso when I think about this, the Hunt family, Doc Edwards, there’s so many people I want to shout out when I think about my memories and what links me to this stadium.
“To have the ability next week to send out the stadium with something as special as hosting MLS Cup and possibly winning an MLS Cup, it would be the icing on the cake, man.”
MAPFRE Stadium has also been a special venue for Caleb Porter. As an assistant coach, he was part of an Indiana University team that won the national championship in the final year of Jerry Yeagley’s legendary career. Porter said he considers Yeagley, who had 544 wins and captured six NCAA Championships, a mentor.
And then of course there was that December afternoon in 2015 when he guided the Portland Timbers to an upset win over the Crew.
“When I took this job, I had a bit of a dream to be in this position, to be playing an MLS Cup Final again at MAPFRE and to bring a trophy back to Columbus,” Porter said.
There will be far fewer fans in the stands Saturday night than the 21,747 for the 2015 MLS Cup Final due to COVID-19 related restrictions. Regardless, Porter has a vow for the 1,500 or so in attendance and those who can’t be inside MAPFRE for one last special occasion.
“It’s going to be a hell of a final,” Porter said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun and I hope we can get as many fans in there that’s safe as possible. The ones that we can’t get in there, I hope that every single person in Columbus is watching on TV.”