Justin Meram - Columbus Crew SC - celebrates his goal vs. New York City FC

OBETZ, Ohio – When Columbus Crew SC host rivals Toronto FC for the opening match of the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Championship on Tuesday night, it will be in front of a packed house.

Crew SC Director of Business Operations Andy Loughnane told the Columbus Dispatch last week that the match is expected to be a sell-out, and Columbus players said that news has already provided a burst of energy in the days before the match.

“There’s more buzz in the locker room,” midfielder and captain Wil Trapp said. “We’re excited for it. We know the atmosphere is going to be excellent. And it does add some pressure, but I think the pressure is good. We’ve done extremely well at home all year, and this is just another home game where we have the chance to play in front of our fans and win.”

For Crew SC players, the talk about a packed stadium is a welcome off-field change from the storyline of the last month.

Josh Williams said he’s thrilled to see the attendance numbers, but said he and the team have been too focused on their playoff run to hear much of the outside noise related to owner Anthony Precourt’s announcement that he’s exploring moving the team to Austin.

“We’re talking about how it’s going to be a sell-out and the excitement; we’re not talking about anything else,” Williams said. “We’re just (thinking) about the energy the crowd is going to provide us, and it’s hard to not feed on that when you have that type of energy in a home crowd environment. So we’re not worried about the negative stuff. We’re strictly focused on the task at hand and putting on a good show for everyone who shows up.”

For Justin Meram, who has been urging Crew SC fans to be even more supportive since the Austin announcement, the sell-out is a reminder of the 2015 MLS Cup Final that was hosted in Columbus. 

After an announced crowd of 14,416 sounded like a low estimate to him in the club’s 4-1 win over New York City in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinal, he said it’s good to know it will be a full sell-out this time.

“I’m excited; this is amazing,” he said. “We know they’re going to be special for us. Last time, I didn’t think it was 14,000. I’m actually pretty confident it wasn’t. The energy and how loud they were in pushing us for that home game was electric. Now that it’s truly a sell-out, I think it’s going to feel like an MLS Cup, how they were in 2015.”

And as much as the crowd announcement matters, Williams said it’s not the only thing that has the locker room buzzing this week.

“It’s the Eastern Conference finals, man,” he said with a smile. “There’s a different feel to everything that’s going on around here.”