In retrospect, it’s bittersweet to reminisce at all that’s happened since Stern John intercepted the ball near the sideline, dribbled downfield and delivered a low cross to Jeff Cunningham, who then took a touch and fired a shot into the net.
When Cunningham celebrated, he put his arms to his sides and ran toward the northeast corner of the stadium before joining his teammates to appreciate the goal.
That was 10 minutes into the Crew’s first match at Columbus Crew Stadium – a 2-0 win against the New England Revolution on May 15, 1999.
Fast forward to May 29 of this year, when Pedro Santos collected the ball near the opposite sideline before producing a pinpoint cross to an outstretched Gyasi Zardes. After scoring, Zardes ran toward the same corner where Cunningham once stood – this time toward the Nordecke – before his teammates followed.
On both occasions, it was the same outcome: A forward wearing the No. 11 shirt finishing a cross from a teammate, running toward that corner and celebrating.
But what’s different between the first goal and the most recent goal the Columbus Crew has scored at Historic Crew Stadium isn’t the quality performance on the field, but the rabid passion from the supporters and what this Club means to its city.
On Saturday night, the Crew will play its last match at Historic Crew Stadium before curtain raising Lower.com Field on July 3. (Of course, that game is against the Revolution, too.) And while the final game at the Club’s home will stir a spectrum of emotions, it won’t necessarily be a farewell to the country’s first soccer-specific stadium.
Just the Crew is moving into its new home, the Club's future second team players will see the hallowed field as their home before getting promoted into the first team and representing Columbus in its new soccer cathedral.
But before we recreate one more night of Black & Gold magic in Historic Crew Stadium, let’s take a look back at what made the stadium truly historic.
As mentioned above, the Columbus Crew opened the nation’s first soccer-specific stadium on May 15, 1999. With a capacity of 22,555, the venue became the headquarters of American soccer and ushered in a new generation for the sport in this country.
Between 1999 and 2002, Crew Stadium became the place for big-time MLS matches. (More on the U.S. National Teams later.)
The stadium hosted two Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup finals, an MLS Cup, and an MLS All-Star Game. The highlight for Crew fans was Oct. 24, 2002, when the Black & Gold beat the LA Galaxy, 1-0, to win the U.S. Open Cup.
Freddy Garcia offered the game winner in the 30th minute when he scored from close range, awarding the Crew its first piece of silverware.
From there, the Black & Gold continued entertaining supporters, but weren’t able to hoist another trophy until Nov. 13, 2008, when they beat rivals Chicago Fire, 2-1, in a cold, but entertaining Eastern Conference final.
In a matchup that paired the Crew against club legend Brian McBride, Columbus scored twice in the second half to nullify a McBride goal and secure its first appearance in MLS Cup.
Guillermo Barros Schelotto provided the Crew’s equalizer before Eddie Gavin slotted the game winner past another former Crew player, Jon Busch.
Ten days later, the Black & Gold took home their first MLS Cup trophy with a 3-1 victory against the New York Red Bulls at the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles.
The Crew finished 2008 by winning both league trophies – the MLS Cup and the Supporters’ Shield. Schelotto was named the MLS and MLS Cup MVP thanks to his club-record 19 assists during the season and three in the final.
The next time Columbus hoisted a trophy inside Historic Crew Stadium was last December, when the Club battered Seattle Sounders FC, 3-0, to win a second MLS Cup and first while inside the venue.
Lucas Zelarayán scored his first of two goals in the match in the 25th minute when he first-timed a delightful back-post cross from Harrison Afful.
Derrick Etienne Jr. doubled the home side’s lead six minutes later with a back-post effort that curled into the side netting.
Zelarayán’s second came in the 81st minute when he collected the ball atop the box and sent it into the top left corner, giving Columbus a commanding three-goal lead while solidifying himself as the 2020 MLS Cup MVP.
But it’s impossible to revisit the history of Historic Crew Stadium without mentioning the national team making the venue its headquarters of some of the country’s best soccer moments.
Between 2001 and 2013, the U.S. Men’s National Team beat Mexico, 2-0, on four occasions, creating the Dos a Cero legend.
The first came on Feb. 28, 2001, when the Americans beat El Tri in La Guerra Fria.
After Brian McBride left the match with a swollen eye and gashed forehead, Josh Wolf scored a brace to secure the win. That led the way to a Dos a Cero in the following year’s FIFA World Cup in South Korea.
The most recent 2-0 win for the U.S. came in 2013 when the U.S. toppled Mexico by the infamous score line.
Let’s not forget the U.S. could’ve ended the Dos a Cero streak, but Clint Dempsey opted to purposely(?) miss a penalty kick in stoppage time.
As for the U.S. Women’s National Team, the four-time world champions have also found success inside Historic Crew Stadium.
On Sept. 28, 2003, the USWNT beat North Korea, 3-0, in a FIFA Women’s World Cup group stage match inside the venue, courtesy of an Abby Wambach penalty and two second-half goals from University of North Carolina senior Cat Reddick (Whitehill).
In the last-ever international match at Historic Crew Stadium, Carli Lloyd produced a brace, while Christen Press added another, in a 3-2 win over Sweden.
The USWNT have an 8-1-1 record inside the stadium and have outscored opponents by a remarkable 36-11.
Legacy of Historic Crew Stadium
It’s too early to fully comprehend what Historic Crew Stadium has meant to American soccer, but it’s certain that MLS and the U.S. national teams wouldn’t be the same without it.
The city of Columbus became a pioneer in 1999 when it opened the first soccer-specific stadium. Historic Crew Stadium became the benchmark. And now as the Club opens Lower.com Field, the first second soccer-specific stadium for a club in MLS, it will surely usher in a new generation of clubs updating or rebuilding their current stadiums to follow the trail the Crew continue to blaze.
Historic Crew Stadium is where a generation of fans grew up going to games, wearing Black & Gold supporters fell in love with their local club and this sport. Together, we shared incredible highs for both the Crew and the U.S. national teams. These are memories we’ll never forget.
And they will certainly be memories we revisit on Saturday night as we watch the League's first team play one final game inside the stadium. There’s still plenty of magic left inside those yellow bleachers waiting to uncork.
Perhaps the biggest compliment we can give to Historic Crew Stadium is that it was a temporary home that allowed the Crew to grow, our hearts to fall in love with the Black & Gold, and to grow our ambitions and expectations.
It’s achieved that – and more.
Lower.com Field awaits next month, but not before another night of magic at Historic Crew Stadium. There’s still history to be written and memories to create.