When you’re forced to wait twenty years for something — say an MLS Cup in your home stadium featuring your home team — it’s understandable that the anticipation could build wild expectations. And if you fail to seize the moment after that long wait is ended, the collapse of those expectations can be absolutely soul crushing.
For myself and countless other Columbus Crew SC fans, we awoke this morning nursing hangovers of soul, induced by a 2-1 loss at home in the 2015 MLS Cup Final.
The 2015 MLS season was one that caught many of us by surprise here in Ohio. Despite a promising first year of the Anthony Precourt/Gregg Berhalter era in 2014 that saw the team qualify for the playoffs, many had expected 2015 to be just another year in that rebuilding process. A slow start to this season had many buying that notion as well. But the team seemed to find their feet by the summer and never looked back from there.
Berhalter had sculpted a team that was not only fun to watch, but also exuded a likable personality. The guys seemed to get on with one another great, and that attitude crossed over to into the stands as well. Buoyed by the still-amazing brand refresh before the season kicked off, the success on the field by a likable team had finally caused much of Columbus — and the league for that matter — stand up and take notice of the Crew.
It was fun, as a long time supporter, to watch the team’s popularity grow within the previously unaware/uninterested flock towards the team. Some might consider it bandwagon behavior, but I’ve never truly minded that kind of movement. Though many will go back to their prior lack of interest, you always peel away from that experience with more invested fans than you started with.
But more than anything, the mere idea of the Crew playing for all of the marbles at Mapfre Stadium generated an excitement that even I couldn’t get swept up in. I bypassed my media credentials three times at the end of the season and in the playoffs, just so I could go as a fan and truly enjoy the moments. And though I did go as press to the final, I was still beyond excited. This was, after all, my first ever MLS Cup Final too — a fact that still kind of blows my mind.
So when the moment finally came for a re-shaped, re-energized and better supported Columbus Crew SC to seize glory, only for us all to see them fall agonizingly short of the ultimate prize… it feels like all of the air has been sucked out of the room.
Two mistakes in the span of the first seven minutes of the game were enough to do the Crew in. And though the Columbus pulled one back just eleven minutes later — oddly due to yet another mistake, which isn’t exactly the best endorsement for MLS in their marquee match of the season — Portland rarely looked truly in danger of surrendering the lead the took so early.
As a fan, I’m still hurting from the experience just over 24 hours later. For all the joy this team brought me this season, essentially losing in the open ten minutes of the Cup final makes for a very huge, bitter and jagged pill to swallow.
I’ll get over that though. Next season, I’ll still support the team and hope that Gregg and the boys learn from it and find a way to use it to motivate them to not only get back, but take that final step, too.
But what has me feeling even worse about last night than that result itself is the way we — as a Columbus Crew SC supporter base — reacted to everything last night.
I can excuse those in attendance for being shell-shocked by the early goal. I certainly was. No home crowd would have ever reacted differently. But the reaction to Portland’s second goal in the seventh minute was inexcusable:
I don’t care if Wallace and his Timbers teammates came to celebrate in front of our supporter section. I don’t care if the refs totally hosed us by not calling a clear as day throw in that lead up that eventually lead to the goal. You are literally incapable of making an argument that can justify throwing anything into the field of play. My instant reaction was one of pure embarrassment, and that only amplified as I watched tweet after tweet shaming us scroll across my Tweetdeck.
Then it got quiet. Eerily quiet.
I mean, there was still crowd noise. But most of that noise was emanating from the South stand, where upwards of 2000 Timbers Army members understandably bounced around, jumping and chanting in jubilation. But considering they were outnumbered somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-1 by the home support, they shouldn’t have set the tone for most of the remainder of the match. But they did.
That felt really weird for a Mapfre Stadium that generally rocked all season long. Again, I can understand the initial shock given the horror start. But at a time when the team needed the 12th man more than ever, it seemed like everyone was sitting on their hands. I’m sure the infighting in the Nordecke didn’t help either. Did we stop believing that easily? Did we forget what power we yield? It made me want to run out of the box and go scream at people to wake them back up.
And then once the final whistle sounded, even more disappointment awaited. I tried to cut it off ahead of time, as I knew what was coming: the ref blaming.
Yes, Jair Marrufo had a horror show, particularly in the first half where he failed to control anything. But it was equally horrific both ways, such as the lack of handball call on Michael Parkhurst that could have easily gone against Crew but instead gave them a break. And yes, MLS assistant referee of the year Corey Parker missed a clear out of touch call on the lead up to that second goal. But you know what, all Tony Tchani had to do was poke away the ball or foul the opportunistic Darlington Nagbe to end that attack before it started. The saying “play to the whistle” exists for a reason, and Tchani was a textbook example of why it does.
But as before I had even finished my tweet warning against that line of thinking, I saw that tweet show up over and over again in my timeline. And as I filed out of the press box, literally the very first thing I heard was someone saying how the refs “screwed us”; I heard it at least a dozen more times before I reached my car.
If you can’t think of a handful of other reasons how Columbus Crew SC lost that game for themselves — or better yet, how the Portland Timbers earned themselves the win — then you’re not even trying hard enough.
So instead of just leaving Columbus last night saddened by a match that just didn’t go the Crew’s way, I spent most of my car ride home to Cincinnati thinking about how we the fans dropped the ball.
Disgraceful behavior. A lack of belief. And then blame shifting. They’re not unforgivable sins. However, they all left a sour taste in my mouth far more intense than just an upsetting performance on the pitch ever would.
But just as I hope the team will do, the events that transpired at MLS Cup last night should serve as a learning experience for us all. It’s really the only way forward, anyway. So hopefully the next time we have the chance to host the biggest match in the league’s calendar, on national TV, in front of a fan base that is just now realizing it’s potential — we’ll be better prepared to seize the moment.
And even if we don’t, at least we’ll show we’re deserving of the honor to begin with.