Wednesday night was another night inside Ohio Stadium where the fans were loud, somewhat obnoxious, donning their team’s colors, but it wasn’t quite September yet. A warm night in July pitted European soccer powerhouse clubs Paris Saint-Germain against Real Madrid.
The International Champions Cup came to Columbus for the first game in the ‘Shoe since 1998 when the Columbus Crew played their last home season on Ohio State’s campus. All night, the atmosphere was electric, filled with an attendance of 86,641—a record for the state of Ohio. For some, this was the first chance they got to see the stars they idolize oversees.
Derevon Guyton, 28, traveled from Washington state to see his beloved PSG squad play for the first time.
“PSG to the death of me, bro,” Guyton said. “That’s my boys out there, man. I’m sitting out here, but I feel like I’m on the field with them.”
A soccer fan since high school, Guyton flew out to Baltimore on Saturday to meet with his girlfriend for two days before they travelled to Columbus for the international friendly. He estimated his trip to be $1,200.
Sporting a Zlatan Ibrahimovic jersey, who has since left PSG for the Premier League’s Manchester United, Guyton waved his red and blue PSG flag for the entire crowd to see, as if they couldn’t hear him already. Cheering at every moment, mocking Real Madrid defender Marcelo as he fell to the turf, the passion exuding from Guyton represented the growth of soccer in America.
“I’ve been waiting to see them for years. It just costs too much to go to Paris. It’s not really feasible unless you’re like a millionaire, bro. It’s like $5,000,” said Guyton. “So for them to come here, it’s a big deal for me. I’ll always remember this.”
Fans from nearby Dayton, Cincinnati, Toledo and Detroit made the journey to OSU for Wednesday’s friendly, as well as some from Chicago. These fans may live in the U.S., but some of them represent nationalities of Spain, France, Canada and even Nepal. One family made the trip to Columbus from Columbia to cheer on their national hero.
“James (Rodriguez for Real Madrid). We came to see James,” said the family. Their trip cost around $2,000.
A nationwide obsession of the video game FIFA has been a major impact in the expansion of soccer in the U.S. Major League Soccer has 20 teams currently playing across the country and some in Canada.
Former Columbus Crew player Frankie Hejduk, who won a championship for the Crew in 2008 when there were just 14 teams in the MLS was in attendance on Wednesday night. He said that seeing die-hard soccer fans from many nationalities bonding with an American football-dominant crowd is something he didn’t think would have been possible five years ago.
“This game really brings attention to the fans who don’t know much about soccer that could potentially say, ‘I had a blast,’” Hejduk said. “That’s what I see is people are learning to respect the game a lot more because these guys are athletes.”
PSG won 3-1 with all scoring in the first half. The first goal came at the two-minute mark sending the crowd into a frenzy. Personal photos were being taken just about everywhere around the stadium to remember the moment they first got to see their team play in America. Fans also took part in a resounding stadium “O-H-I-O” in the second half.
Real Madrid midfielder Lucas Vasquez said that he felt at home on the pitch and the atmosphere was phenomenal.
“I think what we have seen is that all around the world we have fans, and we saw them when we got to the hotel,” said Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane. “Overall, we’re happy to be here and to spend a little time with the fans in Columbus.”
The preseason exhibition between PSG and Real Madrid is one of four games played in the U.S. this month as a part of the ICC. Columbus has been a city that has adapted well to the game, but Wednesday night may have been another installment into how the sport continues to grow in the country.
“It promotes real football. It shows them what football really is,” Guyton said. “I still believe that the MLS is years behind all the other leagues. But this right here is a spectacle.”