In the brief moments between two memorable events, the camera panned to two unlikely faces who perfectly encapsulated the inaugural match at Lower.com Field.
After taking the field to “Wise Men Say” being belted out inside a sold-out stadium, both teams lined up and awaited a national anthem rendition, also delivered by Black & Gold supporters.
But between the two songs, the television broadcast centered on Vito Wormgoor and Harrison Afful, who looked at each other, nodded and smiled.
It was really happening.
Soccer players, coaches and fans dream of the world’s best atmosphere. As of Saturday night, Columbus can be added to the list.
Playing their first match in their new home, the Columbus Crew rallied from a two-goal deficit to draw the New England Revolution in the curtain-raiser at Lower.com Field.
It was a game that was years in the making. The club that was once nearly lost, was welcomed into its permanent home and embraced, as both the Crew and its supporters delivered an entertaining 90-minute performance that will set the standard for the Club moving forward.
“Our supporters, the Nordecke – absolutely electric,” head coach Caleb Porter said after the match. “It’s really exciting to know that this is going to be our home every single game that we play, to know that that atmosphere is going to be exactly like what we all envisioned it would be, dreamt it would be - it exceeded all expectations. We knew it would be loud but it was absolutely incredible, the fans.
“That helped us come back from two goals (down). But again, with 12 more games at home, to know that we have that type of crowd and environment in the stadium really will give our guys a lift.”
But the inaugural match in the stadium hardly stuck to a storybook script.
The smiles that once laid on the faces of Wormgoor and Afful felt lightyears away a half-hour into the match when the Crew was already picking up the ball from their net for a second time in front of the Nordecke.
Tajon Buchanon opened the scoring for the visitors in the 13th minute when he finished a cross delivered by fellow 2019 MLS SuperDraft pick DeJuan Jones. From there, Gustavo Bou doubled the Columbus deficit in the 30th minute when he scored from a Tommy McNamara cross.
Gyasi Zardes scored the first Crew goal nine minutes later, but it was hardly a cause for celebration for the home side, who started the match in complete control, only to claw back into the contest.
Zardes, with his back turned to goal, turned with his left foot and slotted the ball on the ground into the bottom right corner. The forward, who’s set to join the United States Men’s National Team for the Concacaf Gold Cup, didn’t even smile after the goal, focused more on equalizing the match than the moment of history he just produced.
“I said it at halftime, 98% of our first half was absolutely outstanding, and the 2% that wasn’t, was two moments – the only two moments they had in the final third – and uncharacteristically we gave up two goals in two moments in kind of routine plays,” Porter said.
The Crew’s fortunes changed in the second half, however, when a freak own goal from Andrew Farrell equalized the match in the 69th minute.
Wormgoor, who played a long ball over the midfield to Afful to set up Zardes for the first goal, hit another long ball trying to catch Zardes in behind the Revolution backline. Instead, the ball hit the right side of Farrell’s face – unexpectedly – and drifted into an open net in front of the Nordecke.
It was Ferrell who got the last laugh later in the match, though, when he made a goal-line clearance to Afful’s shot that would’ve earned Columbus the game-winning goal.
“Very strange to give up those two goals but I thought we were absolutely outstanding in our play,” Porter said. “That’s the best team right now in the East, maybe one of the best teams in the League, and we absolutely dominated the game and battered them for 90 minutes. So, that’s a positive, being able to come back from two goals down in soccer is very rare. I felt we could get the third, that last flurry where we had three shots – can’t believe the ball didn’t go in – would’ve been a great ending.”
While it would’ve been a great ending, it didn’t damper the festivities, as the Crew delivered a positive result to remain unbeaten at home in 2021 in their first match inside their soccer-specific stadium.
Black & Gold supporters dreamed for years (maybe decades) of playing a home match in downtown Columbus. When it finally came, the atmosphere was better than anyone expected. The roars of the crowd surely came from the excitement, but also for what the game represented.
No more thinking about how the Club almost left the city. No more reduced crowds that kept us shut down during a pandemic. Instead, just one summer afternoon when everything just felt right, felt loud, and felt like home.
If there were any reservations about what it would be like to see the Crew playing a home game outside of Historic Crew Stadium, Lower.com Field’s atmosphere reiterated this is home, sweet home – and just another start of a Columbus Crew voyage.