There are plenty of options for sports fandom around Columbus – nay, the whole state of Ohio – whether it’s baseball, football, hockey, soccer, you name it. Ohio State football, Columbus Clippers, Blue Jackets, Reds, Indians, Bengals, Cavs – we’ve done almost all of it. And one of our favorite experiences is heading to MAPFRE Stadium to cheer on the Columbus Crew SC.
The Crew kicks off their 2020 season on Sunday, March 1 against New York City FC. In addition to marking the 25th season for the club, this year is the final year playing at MAPFRE Stadium. The plan is to move into their new downtown Columbus stadium for the 2021 season. (They just announced that MAPFRE Stadium and the surrounding areas will be converted into the Crew’s practice facility!)
This year the Black & Gold have updated their roster in the offseason. The biggest news is the additions of Designated Player Lucas Zelarayan and U.S. National Team midfielder Darlington Nagbe. Zelarayan won six domestic titles and one international while playing for his last club – Tigres UANL of Mexico’s First Division – while Nagbe has won two MLS Cups, one Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, and one Campeon de Campeones.
We’ve found that Crew games are great for anyone – for the diehard soccer aficionado, for families looking for an entertaining evening, for a group of friends who appreciate great food and beer. While our boys have enjoyed every event we’ve attended, there’s something special about soccer matches. The constant action, the close quarters to the field, the never-ending hustle of the players.
Our first stop after parking near the stadium is always the plaza outside the south entrance. It’s a great hangout before the game: food trucks and tents are lined up around the plaza, a DJ cranks out tunes from the stage, there’s beer from Ohio breweries on tap (like Land-Grant Brewing’s American wheat ale Glory, brewed in honor of the Crew), plus ice-cold slushies (during the warmer months), plenty of Crew swag, a playground and soccer games for the kids.
During one of our visits last year, we were lucky enough to be taken down to the field before the game, where we watched the Crew warming up. We even got a high-five from Crew Cat as he made his rounds. Afterwards we got to stand in the line while the Crew players walked out onto the field, to the thunderous cheering of the crowd. It’s amazing how it sounds from field level.
We’ve been to MAPFRE Stadium multiple times, sitting in many different sections, and I appreciate that there’s really not a bad seat in the house. It’s especially fun to watch the Nordecke, the crew supporters club, as they beat drums and shout and sing for all 90+ minutes of the game. I don’t know if I could ever sit through an entire game in that section, but their enthusiasm is infectious. Every time the Crew scores a goal, the Nordecke unleashes a cloud of smoke while streamers shoot out overhead.
We found many options for entertaining the kids throughout the game. There are stands selling classic stadium snacks at every corner. During the half, some local kids soccer clubs hit the field to play. And at regular intervals, Crew Cat shows up with a T-shirt cannon and sends Crew shirts sailing into the crowd. Our boys and I even enjoy just strolling the main deck of the stadium, catching different views of the action.
If you’re lucky, you’ll get to spot Frankie Hejduk, former Crew captain and now ambassador, often sailing through the stadium on a motorized skateboard while wearing a flag as a cape.
We hope to see you at a game this season! Saturday, July 25 is 25th Anniversary Celebration and Alumni Night during the Crew’s match against the Colorado Rapids, celebrating the history of the Crew as well as recognizing several of its alumni. You can see the Columbus Crew SC’s 2020 schedule at www.columbuscrewsc.com/schedule.