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Crew Stadium: a Spartan place, but one with enormous significance in American soccer

Sep 10, 2012, 7:30 PM EDT

Crew Stadium

I know that beating up on Crew Stadium, easily the most plain Jane facility among 14 constructed expressly for MLS clubs, is something of a pastime for domestic soccer supporters.

It’s an easy target. I get it.

But today is a great time to put Crew Stadium and its critical place in domestic soccer into proper perspective. Because one could easily make this case: Considering soccer’s history here, it might just be the United States’ most important professional soccer stadium.

It was the country’s first major soccer stadium, the tip of the spear of what is, was and always will be the most critical early initiative in professional soccer’s latter day growth here. Simply put, in terms of making MLS facility headway, nothing else happens without the lightly adorned Crew Stadium’s development. None of it.

Not Home Depot Center. Not Red Bull Arena. Not PPL Park. Not Livestrong Park, etc.

Heck, probably no Seattle Sounders or Portland Timbers – those very organizations, that is.

Crew Stadium is Spartan, no doubt. It is essentially four sets of stands erected around a pitch, with some build-out in the concession areas and some bare-bones suites attached. Built on fair grounds leased from the Ohio Expositions Commission, the surrounding area is nothing to shout about.

That said, none of it matters a bit. This stadium was never about aesthetics or fancy-schmancy. And it wasn’t about location; we were all still years from figuring out marketing models that made more sense with venues closer to urban cores.

This park was about symbolism and economic empowerment.  And about faith.

In fact, it was probably the demonstration of faithful conviction that makes Crew Stadium place so important. Specifically, it was a leap of faith from Lamar Hunt, who had taken them before in professional soccer and landed well short his mark, suffering the financial bruising to prove it.

But trustingly into the breach he went once more. The final Crew Stadium cost of $28.5 million will buy roughly one-sixth of a stadium today, give or take. But, you know, it’s still $28.5 million. Who wants to toss that into the ol’ yellow dumpster?

The Crew home ground went up in 1999 when MLS was still just a wobbly legged pony – and nobody was sure if that little guy would ever trot even one full lap around the track, much less zoom around it spectacularly at full, beautiful gallop.

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Only after the facility went up did everyone fully understand what it meant, the full promise economic sustainability that would never, ever, ever happen as renters. And only then did fans, officials and (probably later) media fully embrace the symbolic value of clubs having homes to call their own. Their house – in the middle of the (soccer) street!

I don’t think anyone every put it better than Dwayne De Rosario, who said not too long back “People take you seriously when you get your own stadium.”

There is also soccer history to talk about with Crew Stadium. We’ll get to that later. It’s the Lamar Hunt’s trust in the game and his wonderful, enduring faith that we should spend a minute celebrating today and tomorrow ahead of Tuesday’s huge World Cup qualifier.

  1. woodsmeister - Sep 10, 2012 at 7:50 PM

    The other important thing to remember is that the $28.6 million was Hunt money. Not civic money. After Columbus area voters shot down a stadium funded by tax money, the Hunts put their own money up for the stadium. Otherwise, it was highly likely that the Crew would either have to fold or move, since they could not continue in Ohio Stadium because of renovations.

    • Steve Davis - Sep 10, 2012 at 7:57 PM

      Excellent point. Thanks for filling that gap in my piece.

  2. dhagentj - Sep 10, 2012 at 9:59 PM

    Hopefully the new MLS can fund a modernization of the stadium. I love the layout, especially the covered end. It’s unique and historical. But for the Crew to be competitive in Columbus, that building needs an overhaul.

  3. pjbowmaster - Sep 10, 2012 at 10:01 PM

    As a DC United Supporter I would be happy to help disassemble the erector set that IS Crew Stadium and move it to Lot 8. No question the most important building in MLS history. And a GREAT venue for the National Team! Good sight lines and an excellent grass pitch. What more do we really need?

  4. ndnut - Sep 10, 2012 at 11:23 PM

    I’m interested to see how the MLS-Minneapolis deal plays out. Zygi Wilf, Vikings owner and prospective MLS owner, definitely wants a soccer team. The problems are
    a.) The State required a roof and will make him pay for a retractable roof and
    b.) Turf is by far the preferable option for his current tenant, the Vikings. Plus it is hard to grow grass in a structure with a roof on it that often. The Arizona Cardinals do it, but it is a major pain. With the surge of Soccer-Specific-Stadiums, I don’t think MLS will allow a team to go Sounders and play in turf in an NFL stadium, especially in a market like the Twin Cities, where soccer is not as much a part of culture like Cascadia had in USL. They have a team, but it’s not quite at that level.

  5. footballer4ever - Sep 11, 2012 at 12:34 AM

    If you put it into perspective for Mr.Hunt to invest $28.5 million back then was more than a leap of faith, but simply a visionary and believer that even some of us take MLS for granted and do not give its due support that it needs.
    Crew stadium is not easy on the eyes, yet, its got and will carry the torch as the one that helped light the way for us to see a clearer path. Hooray for Crew stadium! Hooray for the Crew club, but most importantly, bless Mr. Hunt and his descendants.

  6. east96st - Sep 11, 2012 at 2:53 AM

    Spartan is too kind. It’s downright ugly. Concrete and steel and not much more. Best line I ever overheard was that even the ancient Romans painted the damn Coliseum walls. But, when it’s 40 degrees, pouring rain, and the jets headed to Port Columbus airport are buzzing over your head every ten minutes, NO ONE questions whether you’re a fan of the game. You’re there for the love of sport. I will say this though, semi-edible food and bathrooms that can handle more than six people would be a welcome, and long overdue, upgrade.

  7. footballer4ever - Sep 11, 2012 at 3:27 PM

  8. ravegreenstreet - Sep 11, 2012 at 10:52 PM

    God I’m so glad I get to watch the Sounders at the Clink.

  9. bentley27 - Sep 12, 2012 at 9:39 AM

    Great article! Great stadium! I can’t wait to go back.

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