Moments before the Columbus Crew’s 2023 home opener in March, a massive tifo draped over The Nordecke that read “Vive La Créwvolution.” At the top of the tifo was an illustration of new head coach Wilfried Nancy.
The image was a warm welcome for the team’s new French coach – and hope for the prosperous years ahead. But Nancy didn’t need years. He needed months.
Just 10 months after that tifo unveiling, Nancy stood at the base of the Nordecke on Saturday night and raised the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy over his head. The 2023 Columbus Crew were MLS Cup champions again.
“I am so happy because the most important thing was not to win, but to be ourselves,” Nancy said. “My players did it and that’s why we had the opportunity and that’s why we won. I’m really proud of that as a coach. Yes, we can talk about tactics, we can talk about a lot of things, but the performance that we had was spot on.”
The Black & Gold became MLS Cup champions for the third time in Club history on Saturday night when the Crew beat LAFC, 2-1, at Lower.com Field. The championship was the team’s first league title in its new home and first since 2020.
The MLS Cup Final was a day when dreams collided with reality. Yes, there was rain, but it couldn’t dampen the deafening atmosphere that carried from when gates opened to when the pitch cleared so players could pop champagne in the locker room.
“Wise Men Say” roared as Crew players stepped onto the pitch. The Nordecke, in full voice, never ceased to have a moment of silence. The players didn’t either.
The opening minutes of the cup final were nervy. Play was skittish, especially with the soggy conditions. But soon Columbus found its groove and began generating chances. Those efforts were rewarded at the half hour mark, when the home side won a penalty kick that Cucho Hernández buried.
Cucho converted a 33rd minute penalty that sent Maxime Crépeau the wrong way – and sent The Nordecke into a frenzy.
As plumes of yellow smoke rose into the night, rain poured down onto the pitch. An atmosphere that was already electric became a romp.
The air smelled of smoke bombs still when the Crew doubled the lead four minutes later after the opener. In the 37th minute, Malte Admundsen played exquisite through ball that sliced the LAFC lines and found a sprinting Yaw Yeboah. The Ghanian winger rounded a defender, took a touch and slotted the ball to Crepeau’s back post. The moment met the occasion.
“We know that anyone who gets himself in the box can score,” Yeboah said. “So, for us, we always want to attack, and we always want to go and that's what we've been doing the whole year. They’ve been scoring a lot of goals and I just found myself to be in a good position and a good platform and then it was amazing for me.”
The Crew continued to dominate as the first half closed. That carried into the second period, but it was LAFC who scored the next goal. In the 74th minute, Patrick Schulte made a remarkable reaction save. The ball remained in play, though, and the visitors were able to score through a Dénis Bouanga finish.
Throughout 2023, Nancy also considered matches learning lessons to grow from. So, here it was with 15 minutes left, when the Crew faced the adversity that would define the season.
Following the goal, Schulte stayed down and needed medical treatment. His teammates all ran toward Nancy to receive instructions. This was the lone hushed moment in the night – the door crept open for fear to creep in.
But Columbus persevered. Soon, Schulte was back on his feet, waving his arms to raise the volume in the stadium. The party was back on, and the Crew was set to see out the win.
After seven minutes of stoppage time, the whistle blew and the Black & Gold were league champs. The scenes in the stands matched those on the pitch. Players fell to the earth. Others hugged and embraced. Steven Moreira ran a full sprint around the field. Dreams came true.
“It was an incredible feeling, you know?” Cucho said. “I cried like a baby when the final whistle blew. But now it's all about enjoying the moment. Enjoying the moment for the rest of the week and weekend… and just enjoying it.”
Soon, Cucho was named the MLS Cup Final MVP. Minutes after that, Crew players gathered on a stage for the second time in eight days, as Darlington Nagbe hoisted the MLS Cup.
Players took turns lifting the trophy, which was brought toward The Nordecke. Photos came next, as well as a rousing rendition for “Wise Men.”
Lower.com Field was built for days like Saturday, when the first club in MLS had one of its finest days. “Wise Men,” which is always loud, was just a little louder as a record 20,802 packed the soccer cathedral for the service. Each touch was more important – and felt by the supporters.
This was a night fitting for champions. The post-match festivities were fitting, too.
Inside the locker room, plastic sheets protected the players’ lockers from the champagne and beer showers that were imminent. At each player’s locker was collection of gear that read “Champions.” Above the lockers were pictures of the players as little boys – a reminder why they play the beautiful game.
It was in these moments Nancy shared that Nagbe brought tears to everyone’s eyes before kickoff. The captain, who just won his fourth MLS Cup, reminded his teammates that the championship wasn’t just for the players, but their families and the community.
“I told them, ‘January to December,’” he said. “We’ve been playing for a whole year almost. Guys have sacrificed everything and have been away from their families, and everyone flew in from around the world to be with us tonight. I told the guys, ‘Let’s give them a moment to remember.’”
Everyone in the locker room had moments to remember, too.
Team president and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko, still in a suit, had spiked hair from trying to dry the adult beverages from his hair with an “All Together Now” rally towel. Holding a bottle of bubbly, he was quite literally soaking in the scenes.
“This is a testament to the vision Wilfried has and how he wants to play the game,” Bezbatchenko said. “It aligns with what we’re trying to do here as a club, from the top down. He’s a perfect fit for what we’re doing. Not only does he communicate that vision, but he gets people to believe in it. He’s just an authentic, incredible person and exudes principles and values. It’s a lot of fun.”
Saturday was the end of the 2023 season, but it truly feels like this is just the beginning. The Black & Gold improved throughout the season, learned from adversity and delivered the most exciting soccer in MLS. The club that scored the most goals deserved to be the last one standing.
These are the moments to celebrate and savor. The community, the city, supporters and the Crew organization deserved this moment. The wasn’t given – it was earned.
“This is not by luck that we are here tonight,” Nancy said.
It wasn’t. So, enjoy it and carry these moments with you. Your Columbus Crew is the MLS Cup champion – again. Vive la Créwvolution indeed.