For the first time in the history of the franchise, Columbus Crew SC are hosting an MLS Cup final in which they also will be playing.
Crew SC advanced past the New York Red Bulls on Sunday, dominating much of an anxiety-inducing 1-0 loss at Red Bull Arena and holding on with an aggregate score of 2-1 to win the Eastern Conference Championship. As a result, MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus will host the Portland Timbers, who will challenge Crew SC for the right to call themselves MLS champions on December 6 (4pm ET, ESPN | UniMas | TSN | RDS2).
“I don’t think it’s hit me yet,” said Homegrown midfield general Wil Trapp. “We’re just going to enjoy tonight. But it’s going to be very, very exciting to have the chance to win MLS Cup in front of our fans at home. You can’t say anything better than that, really. We just have to take care of business.”
This represents the potential culmination of an eventful year for Crew SC.
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The club renamed and rebranded themselves last October, and capitalized with one of the most impressive seasons of ticket sales and attendance in their 20-year history.
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After a long run of mediocrity followed their 2008 MLS Cup-winning campaign, the team is ready for bigger things.
“Columbus deserves a championship from the Crew,” said goalkeeper Steve Clark. “Our fans deserve it, the city deserves it. We’ve been supported all year – you saw the support last weekend – and I’m sure if [MAPFRE Stadium] is not already sold out, it will be sold out in the next few hours.
"We really take passion in ‘Columbus’ across our chest, and we hear ‘Oh, it’s just Columbus, Ohio.’ We hear that, and we want to fight for that. We’re ready.”
For striker Kei Kamara, drafted by Columbus before bouncing around MLS and England to return this season, the change is obvious and ongoing:
“You win games, everything changes for a club,” Kamara said. “It doesn’t matter what club it is. The fact that we’re winning games and now we’ve won the first trophy of the year, a lot of things have to change in the city.
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"Everybody will respect you and everybody comes out and supports you. You know that you’re not just playing for yourselves. You’re playing to represent Columbus, and that’s what’s really good about this team.”
Progress can’t change the perception of a city overnight, and midfielder Justin Meram believes there exists plenty to prove – especially for a Columbus team that believes they’re battling the odds as one.
“We’re that underdog, small-market team,” Meram said. “[We’re a] group of guys that we believe in ourselves, the coaches believe in us, and I think that’s what carries so much weight in these games. You’re playing for the guy next to you. As cliché as that might sound, that’s it. It’s an unbelievable locker room, and it’s special.”