Columbus Crew SC celebrates its second MLS Cup chamionship. (Kyle Robertson-USA TODAY)
Three years ago, Columbus Crew SC appeared to be heading to Austin, Texas.
Anthony Precourt, then the team owner, was ready to pull the switch one of the original Major League Soccer clubs still alive and kicking.
Then Crew SC supporters got mobilized and with a new ownership, the team was saved as Precourt was awarded an expansion team for Austin.
Today, the team rewarded its supporters with the best gift possible: a championship.
Culminating a remarkable turnaround season, Columbus captured its second MLS Cup championship, besting the defending champion Seattle Sounders FC Dec. 12.
What made the achievement even sweeter was that it was accomplished at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, the first soccer-specific venue in the league in what could be one of the last matches played at the 21-year-old stadium. The team is building a new stadium that is scheduled to open sometime in 2021 in downtown Columbus.
When the team hosted the 2015, current head coach Caleb Porter directed the Portland Timbers to a 2-1 victory over Crew SC in 2015.
“We were not going to let history in the past determine today,” Porter said. “This is our year. This is going to be our year, it was going to be our day, it was going to be our trophy. And that was my message before the game. I don’t care what they’ve done in the past, it’s going to be decided on today.”
Columbus won its previous league championship in Carson, Calif. in 2008.
That anyone would think the season would have finished on such a bright note for Columbus might have been dreaming last winter.
Crew SC was coming off a rather awful 10-16-8 season and only 38 points, seven points adrift from a playoff spot with a 10th-place finish in the Eastern Conference.
After a 23-game regular season, Columbus (12-6-5, 41) finished in third place in the Eastern Conference.
Columbus outscored its four postseason foes, 9-2, finishing its playoff run – all at home – with three consecutive shutouts.
It began with a 3-2 win over the Red Bulls Nov. 21. It continued with a 2-0 victory over Nashville SC Nov. 29. Crew SC added another triumph with a 1-0 result over the New England Revolution Dec. 6, setting up the MLS Cup clash with Seattle.
Midfielder Lucas Zelarayan, who signed for a reported club-record $7 million transfer fee prior to the season, made sure the investment paid off by scoring twice and setting up another before the team proudly took a deserved victory lap around MAPFRE Stadium with the Philip F. Anschutz trophy.
Crew SC wasn’t playing with a full deck as winger Pedro Santos and midfielder Darlington Nagbe were unavailable due to testing positive for COVID-19.
Zelarayan, the game MVP, gave the hosts all the scoring they needed in the 25th minute. Six minutes later, former Red Bulls midfielder Derrick Etienne, Jr. doubled the lead off a Zelarayan feed. The MLS newcomer of the year closed out the match in the 82nd minute.
“I think we took advantage of every single moment that we had,” Zelarayan said through an interpreter. “We tried to be strong every time we had the ball, and I think we capitalized on every single opportunity that we had.”
Tomorrow: National story No. 2