Fans key as Crew looks to carry over past home success in 2013
It may lack the bells and whistles of Sporting Park in Kansas City or the regular crowd of 40,000 that can be found at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, but Crew Stadium boasts something much more meaningful for its tenant: a proven track record of success.
As the first professional soccer-specific stadium in the United States enters its 15th season of operation, the Crew will count on its loyal supporters to continue to make Columbus the least favorite road trip among the other 18 MLS teams. Since the stadium opened in 1999, the Black & Gold have posted a 110-54-51 record at home. Additionally, the club boasts the second-best home record (39-11-14) in MLS since Robert Warzycha took over as Head Coach in 2009.
"When we set our goals for the season, we always say we have to win our games at home because we know how difficult it is to play games away from home," Warzycha said at the Crew's Media Day on Wednesday. "We have to be mentally prepared and that's what we've done the past few years."
"Anytime you're playing at home in front of your city, your fans; you want to play well," defender Chad Marshall said. "It's been a mantra of ours since I've been here: win your games at home. The fans play a huge part. They give you that energy in the later parts of the game when it's a difficult time. As difficult as our fans can make it for the other team, it helps us out."
For veterans like Marshall and Andy Gruenebaum, the support from the Nordecke and around the stadium over the years has given the Crew an overwhelming advantage in Columbus.
"It's the fans," Gruenebaum explained. "It's the supporters' section. It all comes together and you look around and see yellow everywhere. It's a different feeling than anywhere else. I can see how it would be a little intimidating walking in here as an opposing team. We try to use that to our advantage, but at the same time we have to perform as well. We're hyped up to do that in this environment."
Some Crew players are fortunate to earn enough respect among supporters to be showered with custom songs from the supporters. Hearing chants of "You'll never beat Chad Marshall" never gets old for the two-time MLS Defender of the Year.
"It pumps you up," Marshall said. "It makes you want to play for them that much more and you don't want to let them down. You want to give them a good feeling to go home with, three points."
Perhaps the Black & Gold can send their fans home with an even better feeling when they leave Crew Stadium come December. For the second straight season, the highest-seeded team left will host MLS Cup. It all starts with winning the Eastern Conference for the Crew.
"This year [winning the MLS Eastern Conference] is very important because if we win our conference, we have a very good chance of playing [MLS Cup] in Columbus," Warzycha pointed out.
"We have the best crowd in Major League Soccer and I think they deserve to have the championship game here in Columbus."
ON THE OTHER SIDE
After playing the past two seasons for the Chicago Fire, Crew forward Dominic Oduro knows that Crew Stadium can be hostile territory for opposing teams.
"It's different when you're on the other side," the Ghanaian said. "You come [to Columbus] just hoping to get a point and maybe a win. You expect a difficult game and you're not going to get it easy."
Joining the Black & Gold in the offseason, Oduro is happy to call Columbus home.
"The tables have turned," he said. "Any team that comes here, guess what? This is my house and I'm going to try to take my three points."
Sometimes, it's those in the stands that can make just as much of an impact on the game as the players on the field. Crew supporters make sure their presence is known each match.
"We make sure that people know we're there at all times," supporter Julia Oesch explained. "We make sure that we are heard and that the players can hear us. I want our players to hear us. I want the opposing players to hear us. That's how we make it a fortress. We are somewhat small sometimes, but we're still dominating and you can hear us across the field."
Supporters have built a unique relationship among themselves, players and the club, building a sense of family extends beyond match day.
"These people are my best friends, I see them constantly," Oesch said. "These people just want to spend time with each other and they want to bring more people to embrace it. Everyone is just so welcoming."
As the Crew continues to expand its footprint in Columbus and around Ohio, that family seems to be growing.
"It's word of mouth, more than anything else and just telling your friends 'Hey, this is the place to be at on the weekend to have a good time, tailgate, be with friends and watch a really good brand of soccer,'" Supporter Aaron Angel said. "It's an experience. It's more than just the game, it's more than just time with friends, it's everything combined into one."