Columbus Crew Profile
|Major Honours||MLS Cup (2), Supporters' Shield (3), US Open Cup (1)|
A founding member of Major League Soccer, the Crew won the MLS Cup in the disrupted 2020 season.
One of the original members of Major League Soccer, the Columbus Crew have enjoyed considerable success both on and off the field over their first 25 years. They built the first-ever soccer-specific stadium in the United States, won six major trophies, qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League four times, set league attendance records and had a fan/community movement to save the team from relocation.
The official team name is Columbus Crew SC and they play in black and gold colours. The original badge featured three male figures in silhouette wearing construction hats to represent the blue-collar image of Columbus. The badge was redesigned in 2014. It is now circular and features the number 96 on a black and gold checkerboard pattern. The new badge also includes an 'O', similar to the one found on the Ohio state flag.
Among the big-name coaches in Crew history are Tom Fitzgerald, Sigi Schmid, Robert Warzycha, Gregg Berhalter, and current manager, Caleb Porter. Columbus has been home to many MLS stars too, including Gyasi Zardes, Darlington Nagbe, Brad Friedel, Brian McBride, Wil Trapp, Frankie Hejduk, Federico Higuain, Chad Marshall, Robert Warzycha, Stern John, Edson Buddle, Jeff Cunningham and William Hesmer.
The Crew were initially owned by Lamar and Clark Hunt, who also owned the Kansas City Wizards and the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs. Anthony Precourt purchased the team on July 30, 2013, as the second investor-operator in team history. After announcing intentions to move the team to Austin, Texas, in October 2017, Precourt was sued by Ohio and the city of Columbus. He eventually sold the team to Jimmy and Dee Haslam, owners of the NFL's Cleveland Browns, and Dr. Pete Edwards. The new ownership group immediately announced plans for a new downtown arena, with construction starting in 2019 and expected to end in early 2021.
The early Crew years
The Crew hired Timo Liekoski from the U-23 US national team to be their first manager and with the first overall pick in the 1996 MLS draft, they signed USMNT forward Brian McBride from VfL Wolfsburg. They debuted at Ohio State's Ohio Stadium on April 13, 1996, and beat D.C. United 4-0 in front of 25,266 fans. Hard times followed though, with just five wins over the next 21 games and Liekoski was fired and replaced by assistant Tom Fitzgerald. The Crew responded and won nine of the next 10 games to finish fourth in the Eastern Conference and make the play-offs. In those play-offs, McBride scored twice, but the Crew were eliminated in a three-game series by Tampa Bay Mutiny, losing the deciding game 4-1. Goalkeeper Brad Friedel was the September Player of the Month and McBride led the team with 17 regular-season goals.
The Crew ended the regular season under .500 at 15-17 in 1997, finishing third in the Eastern Conference. In the play-offs, they beat Tampa Bay in a two-game sweep before losing both legs to D.C. United in the conference finals. Friedel was the August Player of the Month and the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year. After the season, he signed a deal worth more than $2million to transfer to Liverpool in the English Premier League.
In 1998, the Crew again went 15-17, this time finishing fourth in the East. In the play-offs, they beat the NY/NJ MetroStars in both legs, with McBride and Stern John both scoring twice. In the conference finals, they were again eliminated by D.C. United, this time over three games. The Crew reached the finals of the US Open Cup, but a hurricane forced the game to be moved from a neutral venue to Chicago's Soldier Field, where the Crew lost 2-1 to the Chicago Fire. John, who was new to the team in 1998, led the MLS in scoring with 26 goals and five assists.
Success in a new stadium
Columbus Crew Stadium, now called Mapfre Stadium, was the first soccer-specific stadium in the United States when it opened in 1999. The Crew won their first game 2-0 against New England, with 24,741 fans on hand. John again scored 26 goals and keeper Mark Dougherty led the league in GAA as the Crew finished second in the East. Columbus swept Tampa Bay in the first round of the play-offs but lost in the East finals to D.C. United for a third straight season despite a John hat-trick in the second game. John left after the season to go to England's Nottingham Forest for $2million.
The Crew brought in Dante Washington from Dallas and he scored 13 goals in 2000, but the Crew missed the play-offs for the first time.
After just one win in six games to start the 2001 season, Fitzgerald was let go and replaced by Greg Andrulis. The Crew got it going as Jeff Cunningham scored 14 goals, and the team finished in second place in the newly-formed Central Conference. In the play-offs, they were swept by San Jose, losing 3-1 and 3-0.
The Crew grabbed their first major trophy in 2002 - the US Open Cup. In the final, they beat LA Galaxy, the 2002 MLS champions. Freddy Garcia scored in the 1-0 win as Jon Busch secured a clean sheet. The MLS regular season saw the Crew finish tied for first place in the East as Cunningham scored 16 goals. They beat San Jose in the first round of the play-offs but lost three games to New England in the conference finals. Kyle Martino was named MLS Rookie of the Year and the Crew qualified for the 2003 CONCACAF Champions Cup.
In 2003, the Crew missed the play-offs and crashed out of the US Open Cup in the round of 16. They made it to the quarter-finals of the CONCACAF Champions Cup and McBride left for England after leading the team with 12 goals.
The Crew brought in Robin Fraser and Simon Elliott to replace McBride, and Fraser was the 2004 MLS Defender of the Year. Columbus racked up a franchise-record 49 points with an 18-game unbeaten streak to end the season. They won the Supporters' Shield for the first time, and Cunningham tied McBride for the team record with 62 career goals. Andrulis won MLS Coach of the Year, but the Crew lost to New England in the first round of the play-offs.
Andrulis was fired halfway through the 2005 season and former Crew player Robert Warzycha replaced him as interim manager. Despite this, the Crew missed the play-offs. They hired former Galaxy manager Sigi Schmid in October 2005, but they again missed the play-offs, and owner Lamar Hunt passed away after the 2006 season ended.
Barros Schelotto's brilliance
The Crew brought in Guillermo Barros Schelotto as a Designated Player for the 2007 season. The Argentine forward had scored 135 goals for Boca Juniors and Gimnasia La Plata before moving to MLS. He led the Crew with 11 assists in 22 games in 2007, but the team again missed the play-offs. Schelotto also added five goals during the season.
In 2008, the Crew put together their best-ever season and were rewarded with the MLS Cup. Barros Schelotto was MLS MVP with seven goals and 19 assists, while Alejandro Moreno scored a team-high 10 goals. The Crew won the Supporters' Shield with 57 points and beat Kansas City in the first round of the play-offs. After a 2-0 win in the conference finals, Barros Schelotto had three assists in the MLS Cup final as Columbus beat New York Red Bulls 3-1 to claim their first league title.
Schmid left for Seattle after the season and Warzycha took over as manager in December 2008. The Crew again won the Supporters' Shield with 49 points, but they were eliminated by Real Salt Lake in the conference semi-finals in 2009.
Columbus lost in the CONCACAF Champions League quarter-finals in 2010 and finished second in the conference for the regular season as Barros Schelotto scored a team-best nine goals. They went out in the quarter-finals of the play-offs to Colorado Rapids and lost in the US Open Cup final to Seattle Sounders.
Barros Schelotto returned to Argentina after the 2010 season and Columbus won just 13 games in 2011. They snuck into the play-offs in ninth place but lost in the play-in game to Colorado Rapids. After missing the play-offs in both 2012 and 2013, Warzycha was dismissed and the team was sold to Anthony Precourt.
Berhalter brought in, but no change of fortunes
Former Galaxy and USMNT player Gregg Berhalter was hired as manager and the franchise's first-ever technical director on November 6, 2013. He led the team back to the play-offs in 2014 and was a finalist for MLS Coach of the Year. Federico Higuain led the team with 11 goals, while Ethan Finlay scored eight times. Columbus fell in their first play-off series to New England though.
In 2015, the Crew brought back forward Kei Kamara, who had been in England with Middlesbrough. He led the team with 22 goals, while Finlay scored 13 goals to go with 13 assists. Columbus finished second in the Eastern Conference and won the first two rounds of the play-offs to qualify for the MLS Cup final for the second time in the team's history. They hosted the final game, but conceded two goals in the first seven minutes, eventually falling to Portland Timbers 2-1.
The Crew brought in young American goalkeeper Zack Steffen for the 2016 season, and Kei Kamara was traded to New England in May for draft picks. The team never really got going with just eight wins from 34 games and they missed the play-offs.
Before the 2017 season, they signed midfielder Artur on loan, lost Michael Parkhurst to expansion side Atlanta United and added defender Jonathan Mensah as a Designated Player. Pedro Santos joined as a D.P. in August as the Crew returned to the MLS Cup play-offs. Steffen posted 11 clean sheets while Ola Kamara scored a team-best 19 goals. They beat Atlanta United and NYCFC in the play-offs before falling to Toronto 1-0 in the conference finals.
Crew traded Ola Kamara to LA Galaxy in January 2018 for forward Gyasi Zardes while also signing Artur permanently. Steffen was named the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and included in the MLS Best XI for the subsequent season, while Zardes was the 2018 Comeback Player of the Year with 20 goals. The Crew made the play-offs but lost 3-1 on aggregate to NYCFC in the conference semi-finals.
After the season, Jimmy Haslam took over as owner following a lawsuit to keep the team from moving to Austin, Texas. The #SaveTheCrew fan and community mission was successful in getting a new stadium and retaining the team in Ohio. Berhalter was hired by the USMNT and Columbus brought in manager Caleb Porter from Portland Timbers.
The Caleb Porter era begins
Porter's 2019 season was a nightmare, with numerous injuries leaving the Crew in 10th place in the East with just 10 wins. Zardes led the team with 13 goals, while Santos added 11. Steffen left in July on a $7.5million deal with Manchester City and the Crew signed goalie Eloy Room from PSV.
Before the COVID-19-impacted 2020 season, the Crew added defender Vito Wormgoor from SK Brann, midfielder Lucas Zelarayan on a D.P. contract from UANL Tigres, and traded for Atlanta United midfielder Darlington Nagbe. They swept the group stage at the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando but lost in a shoot-out to Minnesota United in the round of 16.
On resumption of MLS, Columbus finished third in the East and made the play-offs. They beat RBNY 3-2 in the first round, and both Santos and Zardes scored in extra time for a 2-0 win over Nashville in the conference semi-finals. Despite some big names being out with COVID-19, Columbus beat New England 1-0 with a goal by Artur in the conference finals. Nagbe and Santos missed the MLS Cup final with COVID-19 positive tests, but the Crew picked up their second-ever league title with a 3-0 win over Seattle Sounders at Mapfre Stadium. Zelarayan was the game MVP with two goals and an assist. Over the season, Zardes led the team with 15 goals while Zelarayan scored eight times.
Columbus Crew's rivals
The Crew's long-time rivals have been the Chicago Fire. For decades they were the closest to each other geographically and they also met in some big play-off games. Columbus defeated the Fire in the 2008 Eastern Conference championship match en route to their first MLS Cup. The Fire beat the Crew in a memorable US Open Cup final in 1998 at Soldier Field.
Starting in 2019, the Crew also picked up an in-state rival with FC Cincinnati, who joined MLS from the USL. The Ohio Derby is known as The Hell is Real Derby, named after a famous billboard on interstate 71 between the two cities. The teams first met in a 2017 US Open Cup third-round match, won by Cincinnati 1-0 in front of 30,160 fans. The first MLS match-up was a 2-2 draw in August 2019 and Columbus won 3-1 15 days later in Cincinnati. In 2020, the first game went to the Crew 4-0 on July 11 and the teams drew 0-0 a month later. Columbus beat Cincinnati 3-0 in September and Cincinnati won 2-1 in October.
Columbus Crew's top players
Chad Marshall holds the franchise record for appearances with 277, 12 more than Mike Clark.
Brian McBride has the overall goals record with 79, five more than Jeff Cunningham, although the latter has outscored McBride in MLS goals 64-62. Stern John has the single-season record with 30 goals.
Robin Fraser, Frankie Hejduk, Chad Marshall, Federico Higuain, Michael Parkhurst, Wil Trapp and Jonathan Mensah have been official captains of the Crew on the field.
Among the USMNT players to appear for the Crew are McBride, Darlington Nagbe, Brad Friedel, Zack Steffen, Gyasi Zardes, Edson Buddle and Frankie Hejduk.
The highest fee ever paid was for Lucas Zelarayan in December 2019 as the Crew sent $7million to UANL Tigres. That broke the record of $2.3million paid to Braga in 2017 for Pedro Santos.
The Crew earned $7.5million for Steffen from Manchester City in 2018 and $5million from Palermo in 2014 for defender Giancarlo Gonzalez. The largest fee earned from an MLS side was $1.05million in January 2018 from Orlando City for forward Justin Meram.