The last time Gregg Berhalter was a coach in Columbus, the year was 2018 and he guided the Crew through a Major League Soccer season amidst the off-field rumblings of the Club leaving the city.
On the three-year anniversary of the Crew being saved and remaining in the city, the Club’s former coach returned, this time with the U.S. Men’s National Team in tow, and spoke of his excitement of being back and leading the national team in its first game at Lower.com Field.
On Wednesday night, Berhalter and the USMNT will host Costa Rica in a crucial 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifier in the first national team match in Columbus since 2016.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” the USMNT coach said of being back. “It’s almost like a dream come true. I spent a long portion of my coaching career here, have some great memories. The fans are original fans of Major League Soccer. They’re the ones that go back since day one.
“It’s a special environment. I’m really excited to play in the new stadium and it’s a fantastic stadium and a fantastic training ground. To see the progress the club has made since I’ve been gone in 2018 is amazing. World-class facility, top-of-the-line stadium, they won a championship. I’m really looking forward to this game.”
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His comment that Columbus is home of “day one” supporters seems especially poignant given the national team is back in its spiritual home, albeit in a new stadium.
For decades, Columbus has been the city the USMNT turns to for big matchups, and Wednesday night’s meeting with Los Ticos is no different.
But for players such as Columbus Crew forward Gyasi Zardes, a chance to play in front of his hometown fans is remarkable opportunity, he said.
“It’s an amazing feeling being able to play in front of my hometown, my family members, my friends and in my own setting,” Zardes said. “My Club plays at this stadium, and for the national team to bring some games back to Columbus means a lot.
“It’s going to be incredible to play in front of the fans I play in front of on a daily basis. Especially for the national team, we used to beat a lot of teams here … We want to make this new home our fortress. It’s exciting times for Lower.com Field, but also the city of Columbus to bring national team games back here.”
Zardes mentioned the national team’s last match in 2015, when the Americans beat Guatemala, 5-0, at Historic Crew Stadium in the earlier rounds of 2016 FIFA World Cup qualifying. The team then hosted Mexico the following year but suffered its first defeat in Columbus.
Now, the USMNT sits second in the Concacaf World Cup Qualifying standings with eight points from five matches and is hoping to improve to five games unbeaten against fifth-place Costa Rica.
Wednesday night will also mark the first international match at Lower.com Field, and Zardes said the nation’s top players are excited to play in arguably the country’s nicest stadium.
“A lot of guys have been asking about the stadium,” he said. “They’re going to have the chance to see it later on. I’ve telling them that, one, it’s an incredible atmosphere and the fans will be cheering 90 minutes plus. (Two), it’s a state-of-the-art facility, and you’re going to see all the new perks you have at this facility.”
In terms of familiar faces, Black & Gold fans could see three current or former Crew players feature in the match.
In addition to Zardes, Luis Díaz is a projected started for Costa Rica and will play his first game at Lower.com Field as a “visitor.” Former Crew goalkeeper Zack Steffen could also play in the qualifier. Steffen left Columbus in 2019 to join Manchester City in the English Premier League.
As for Berhalter, he spent five seasons in Columbus (2013-18) and guided the Crew to the 2015 MLS Cup Final. The club made four postseason appearances with Berhalter at the helm.
Kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m. ET with tickets still available for this historic match.