During the 2017 season, I met a tourist from the Columbus, Ohio area at the Broken Cauldron before an Orlando Pride game. We struck up a friendship and talked about the rivalry that Orlando City and the Columbus Crew developed during the 2015 season when we seemed to play them about seventeen times. When the news broke that the Columbus Crew ownership is considering moving the team to Austin, Texas if they can't get a new stadium, I heard from my new friend again. I asked if he and his friends could share what it would mean to them if the team left Columbus.
Today, I want to bring you the first post in a series I'm calling #SaveTheCrew Stories. We know what the talking heads are saying. We know what the pundits are saying. We know what the MLS league office is saying. But as a fan blog, I wanted to let other fans tell the story of how they feel.
Today's story comes from an Army veteran and a lifelong Columbus resident named Alex Voisard. I started by asking Alex to tell me a little bit about himself, his love of his local MLS side, and what the Crew leaving Columbus would mean to him.
Fan Bio: Alex Voisard
Alex started by telling me he's 28 and has been playing soccer since the age of four or five. He played through grade school and in high school he played for St. Charles Prep High, where he was a classmate with Chicago Fire goalkeeper Matt Lampson (class of 2007).
Alex has followed the Crew since the MLS started, and watched them play at the Ohio State University soccer complex before the MLS stadium was built. And in February 2001 he was at the game in Columbus when the USMNT defeated Mexico 2-0 in what was then just known as Crew Stadium. That stadium went on to be known as "The Fortress" for the USMNT, and Alex attended every match of his club and the USMNT that he was able to make. But there was a time after high school when his schedule was set for him by a very influential Uncle Sam.
Alex enlisted in the US Army and served four years, both at Fort Campbell and deployed to Afghanistan. While deployed he managed to find a weekly pick-up game at the FOB with players from around the globe. Most of the other players were from Africa and the Middle East, Alex recalled. He told me it was always a very special treat when he managed to catch some live Columbus Crew games at one or two in the morning local time. Even halfway around the world, Alex kept up with his beloved hometown team and stayed active in the game he enjoys so much.
Then I asked Alex to give me and my readers a few of his favorite memories related to being a fan of the Crew.
Lion's Teeth Blog: What is your favorite matchday memory at a Columbus Crew game?
Alex Voisard: I had just returned from deployment a few weeks before we started our run for the cup in 2015. I got to come home for the weekend and watch the Crew play Drogba and the Montreal Impact at Mapfre Stadium in the two game semi-final. That game they selected me for the hometown hero, where they have a service member stand on the field in recognition of service, which I loved. I then ran upstairs, changed, and supported my team to victory.
What makes the day memorable for me was the recognition, seeing the team live for the first time in a few years, and also going to use the restroom TWICE and the team scoring BOTH TIMES while I was in the restroom! I missed two of the three goals on my first live match back! But I was excited and just glad that we had won and could see our team off to the next round. Not only did everyone around me show support to me for my service, but they joked with me about going back to the bathroom to extend our lead! I loved every minute of it--from the pre-match tailgate to going home with a smile on my face.
LTB: What is your favorite part of attending matches at Mapfre Stadium?
AV: It would have to be the tailgating that has developed here over time. I was talking with a few friends about how that seems to be an Ohio thing due to other teams not tailgating or having the ability to tailgate. [Editor's note--Orlando City fans have been creative in 2017 with finding lots where they can tailgate, but it's just not the same as gameday at the old Citrus Bowl where every lot around the stadium was one huge tailgate party.] My buddy Jon has been to LA and Orlando, and I have been to Chicago for MLS matches. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of tailgating anywhere else like we do it here in Columbus.
We went down to Cincy for the "Hell Is Real" Derby for the first time ever in Crew vs Cincy history, and were unable to tailgate. We could have tailgated in the parking garage, but it's not the same. I enjoy talking to and having drinks with fans around us in the tailgate lots. The supporter groups get together and tailgate, and I have drinks with them--we have a great time even before the game starts. I don’t think we would like to have it any other way.
LTB: What is the importance of the Columbus Crew to the city, away from the pitch and the matches?
AV: In a word--amazing. I see on social media all the time how the Crew players give back to the community by building turf soccer fields and surrounding them with tall fences to keep the ball in like indoor pitches. At that same location, they built some playground equipment and things for the park.
But that’s not the best part. I am studying Portuguese at OSU as a second language to just learn the language. On a whim, I contacted the Crew front office and asked if Artur, our new Brazilian player, could come and speak to our class. I figured the worst they could say was no. They came through and we orchestrated a meeting with Artur to speak Portuguese to our students at the Ohio Union on campus. I am so glad that I did ask, and I got the right people in touch with each other to make that wonderful opportunity happen.
During my time at Ohio State, I plan on trying to make this a yearly or every semester thing with anyone on the team that speaks the language. It made the community come together with the team and also welcomed Artur, a non-English speaking player, to help him feel more welcome to join our club. Now Artur comes to campus every from time to time to hang out. I saw him on a walk from one class to another and a few other friends have seen him on other occasions walking around on campus. I’ve never heard of anything like it from other clubs. Matt Lampson [who previously played with Columbus from 2012 - 2015] does his Cancer Society appearances, which I love and follow. Does anyone else do this?
LTB: Can you describe the pain you would feel if the owner moved the Columbus Crew away from the city?
AV: The pain I would feel for the club leaving would be all around: mental, physical and emotional. It would hurt in every aspect due to the history I have with soccer and the Crew. I attended my first Columbus Crew match when I was seven! I’ve never followed another team or sport as much as I have the Crew. If they left, I would still watch and follow soccer in Europe and the MLS, but it would never be the same again due to not having MY team in MY city playing--having someone to be proud of and say, "That’s our team out there," winning or losing. I love Ohio State football and I don’t care for hockey. But if the Crew left, the Blue Jackets and Ohio State Buckeyes would be all that we have here--but it wouldn't be the sport I love with every fiber of my body.
LTB: Was there a player or moment that made you really embrace the team or made a special impact on you?
AV: Brian McBride. He showed me what it was to be committed to soccer. Growing up and watching him, he gave his all every game and played to the best of his ability, win or lose. I grew up wanting to play to the best of my ability and to give it my all for my grade school team and my high school team.
What really showed me all of this is the fact that he has had more surgeries on his head than I and my entire family have had all together. He went in for every ball and really showed dedication to winning and playing well even after breaking his face from another player's elbow or head. He even took a bicycle kick boot to the face, but he wanted to continue playing through the pain of broken bones and swollen eyes. I haven’t looked at the information in a long time but he has multiple plates and screws throughout his head and face. He was the player that I wanted to be someday. A striker or forward that scored and give my all every game no matter the score and to the best of my ability. He was a player that everyone could get behind and root for. That’s when I knew it was our team. Our Columbus team.
LTB: Are you a member of a recognized Supporter's group and/or do you have season tickets?
AV: I am a member of the Hudson Street Hooligans. I love the group and have gotten along with everyone in the group since I joined. I clicked with Donny, the starter of the group, the first time I met him. It has been great ever since.
I first got season tickets as soon as I could buy them, which was the year I got out of the service. I got out in March of 2016, and I bought my season tickets in February of 2016 so that I could watch every home game from now until I pass. I have had them now for two years and have just renewed my tickets for next year. I never want to miss a match! Even though I'm now engaged and I've got things to do I have only missed a couple of matches in two years. I went to a wedding this year where I missed the Atlanta game, which we lost. But it’s OK now because we just won the knockout round against them! I want to see every match and cheer my team on to victory. I kind of get it from my mom’s friend who hasn’t missed a home Ohio State Football game in over 20 years. I consider that dedication and love for the team and sport, and I want to follow in her footsteps. Her own sons even know to not schedule anything on those days. She has warned them she would even miss their weddings if they scheduled them on game days!
LTB: What's a unique aspect of Columbus Crew games that you would miss if the team left the city?
AV: I would miss the atmosphere and love for the sport and the team. We may not be Camp Nou, but the fans that are there are soccer and Crew die-hards that love the team and this sport just as much as I do. We may not fill the stands and the soccer community may be small here, but we cheer and love our team just as much as any other fans in the league, if not more. I would dearly miss the fans around me cheering every bit as hard as I do; I'd miss the stadium erupting in cheers when a goal is scored; I'd miss the high fives from strangers and friends; I'd miss everything about the match.
I hope to pass memorabilia to my sons or daughters when I have them, and to my grandchildren, and I hope to continue to grow the sport of soccer within my family when I have one. I already have my fiancé hooked. I also want to have season tickets forever and then add to my tickets by taking my future family all the way to grandchildren and great-grandchildren if I end up with that opportunity when I am older. I want to share a passion of mine with my kids and hope they choose to play soccer growing up. But I won't be able to do that if the team leaves. I’ve been told that in European soccer stadiums and some NFL stadiums like Lambeau Field in Green Bay, the seats have to be passed down from family members or friends. I hope that soccer in the U.S. aspires to grow that much and be that dedicated in the future. At that point it’s not just about money--it's about loyalty, passion, love for the home team--and most importantly, it's about family.
As Orlando City fans we know a bit about what it feels to lose something: we've lost our founding head coach, seen our club's President step away from operations and move off to begin a new venture, and we've seen some beloved original players leave the roster for other teams or to start new chapters of their lives. But we haven't had anyone threaten to take our club away. Personally, I can't imagine how I would feel--so I'm both humbled and very grateful that some fans have chosen to share their story with my little blog and let me and my readers know what their club means to them.
If you want to do something to help #SaveTheCrew, then feel free to post links to this story everywhere you see people using that hashtag. Maybe if enough people post enough fan stories, the folks in the MLS office will realize what a bunch of nonsense it would be to move one of the founding franchises of MLS out of the city that has embraced the team as their own for over 20 seasons.