Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
The United States men’s national soccer team’s victory against Jamaica at Crew Stadium added another proud chapter to Columbus’ sports history. So proud and frenzied was the game, in fact, that before the 90 minutes had elapsed on the field, some were already speculating about how the atmosphere in the stadium compared to other professional and collegiate sporting events hosted in Columbus.
There is no doubt that the U.S. team’s most recent victory at Crew Stadium – the team upped its all-time record at the ground to 6-0-3 by beating Jamaica – is up there with the top sporting events in the city’s history. Whether it’s comparable to a football Saturday at Ohio Stadium is very much debatable, though.
To understand how special the atmosphere was during the Yanks’ shutout victory against Jamaica on Tuesday, look no further than the very first words of team manager Jurgen Klinsmann’s post game press conference.
“I think first of all, we want to thank that (Crew Stadium) crowd out there in Columbus for their tremendous support,” Klinsmann said. “It was a tremendous atmosphere that pushed the players. All of us really appreciated that. It was fantastic.”
Keep Klinsmann’s status in world soccer in mind – he’s played professionally in England’s Premier League, Italy’s Serie A and Germany’s Bundesliga. He was a World Cup winner with Germany in 1990 and a European champion with Bayern Munich in 1996.
Suffice it to say that the guy knows his soccer, he knows what passionate fan support looks like and while part of his job as U.S. manager is to help stoke the relatively small flame that is American soccer culture, he has no other reason to sugarcoat. And he didn’t on Tuesday. So congratulations to soccer fans in Columbus and all the rest that journeyed to Central Ohio for the game – the performance of the 23,881 fans that jammed into Crew Stadium was just as convincing as the American team’s play on the pitch.
I’ll take it a step further, as some members of the press did last night, and say that the atmosphere at Crew Stadium was better than the Columbus Blue Jackets’ opening-round series against the Detroit Red Wings during the 2009 NHL playoffs.
Anyone can make that claim easily.
With the temporary seating installed in Crew Stadium for Tuesday’s game, a vital World Cup qualifier for both teams involved, the venue held more fans than the Blue Jackets’ Nationwide Arena could ever host (capacity of 18,500 for hockey, according to nationwidearena.com). The Jackets also had a fan base that wasn’t fully invested in the 2009 playoff run, and that’s OK because the team was a heavy underdog against Detroit and was eventually swept, 4-0.
American fans, despite seeing the U.S. lose to Jamaica, 2-1, in Kingston, Jamaica, just days before the game in Columbus, had Klinsmann’s promise that the team wouldn’t lose to the Reggae Boyz for the second time in a week. They didn’t, and American fans have come to expect results from their men’s national team against opponents from all over the world. There’s a cautious optimism about the U.S. men’s national team, and that lends itself to a party spirit whenever the squad has a match.
It goes without saying that while the U.S. men’s team is far from a juggernaut in world soccer, it is a strong and competitive team, especially in the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) region.
So in terms of the significance of the event and the passionate crowd support, Tuesday’s game at Crew Stadium tops anything the Blue Jackets franchise has to offer.
I’ll even say this – the U.S.-Jamaica game was a better atmosphere than most Ohio State men’s basketball home games.
Again, consider the respective stadiums’ capacities – the Schottenstein Center holds 19,500 fans for basketball games and, quite honestly, a lot of those Buckeye contests can be a bore.
I’m not talking about the marquee games against big-name opponents such as Duke last season or Kansas this coming season. Big Ten Conference games against Wisconsin and Michigan State certainly might have the U.S.-Jamaica game beat in terms of atmosphere, especially when the Buckeye Nut House student cheering section gets fired up.
But are you going to tell me that an OSU basketball game against some of the drab non-conference teams the athletic department brings in is an event you’d be excited to watch? For someone that’s never seen the Buckeyes play live before, maybe you would tell me that. But for Columbus residents and students with season ticket plans, sorry, you’re lying to yourself if you think the average OSU men’s basketball home game tops what Crew Stadium offered on Tuesday.
What I can’t do is tell you that the U.S. men’s national team and its fans teamed up to create an atmosphere comparable to an OSU football game at Ohio Stadium. There’s no comparison.
Using the same stadium-capacity barometer, well, it would take more than four Crew Stadiums (with additional, temporary seating) to fill the Horseshoe. Even if many Buckeye supporters want to sit on their hands throughout the game, 105,000 people are going to make more noise inhaling and exhaling oxygen than a packed Crew Stadium ever will.
So when I overheard members of the Columbus media compare Tuesday’s national team game to the OSU-USC football game at the Horseshoe in 2008, well, there’s a reason I didn’t make that argument the focus of this column. That is a ridiculous and absurd notion.
Unlike the OSU men’s basketball team, even the Buckeyes football team’s non-conference games draw massive, passionate crowds. Even on a planet where soccer is king, gatherings of 100,000 or more supporters is a phenomenon that is mostly limited to a select group of American universities with powerful college football programs.
There’s no shame in losing out to the tradition and pageantry of an Ohio Stadium football game, though. The U.S. put on yet another memorable performance at Crew Stadium on Tuesday, one that will be remembered as one of the great sporting moments in a city that has had so many.
Certainly, Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier provided a performance and accompanying atmosphere that rivals any moment in the history of Columbus’ NHL franchise and even gives the average OSU men’s basketball home game a run for its money.
Not bad for a soccer team.