TAG | Columbus Crew
[Editor’s Note: The MLS season kicks off in under 8 weeks and moves have been made by every team. As my knowledge of the Crew is severely lacking, I sought out someone who lives and breathes Crew soccer to give an update on all that has been happening with the team. Michael Thompson is the player/coach of my adult co-ed soccer team and is a season ticket holder with the Crew. And while this is his first season as a season ticket holder, I know he went to almost every home game last year, and he even flew out to Los Angeles to catch a game against the Galaxy! That’s dedication. The Crew should give him a medal or something. So here it is, Michael Thompson’s 2012 Crew Preview.]
At or around this time last year, the Columbus Crew had parted ways with what many fans considered to be the core of their team; Argentine legend Guillermo Barros Schelotto, his fellow countryman Gino Padula, fan favorite Kiwi Duncan Oughton, and former US National Team defender and Columbus captain Frankie Hejduk.
While the moves did clean house to make way for younger, more athletic players, it put a hurt on ticket sales for the club. Less familiar faces, and some nasty weather early on in the season plummeted the Black & Gold to the second lowest average attendance in all of Major League Soccer for the 2011 season. The only club that brought in less spectators on average was the San Jose Earthquakes, with 11,858 (their home stadium has a capacity of 10,300).
The Crew went into the late summer 2011 on top of the Eastern Conference, but ended up on a slippery slope, losing 5 out of 6 matches in the span of one month, and backing into a wild card playoff position. While it was a franchise tying fourth consecutive playoff appearance for The Crew, they were eliminated by the Colorado Rapids for the second year in a row. It was a less than dramatic end to what was many saw as a middle-of-the-road season. Forward Jeff Cunningham did break the MLS career goal scoring record wearing a Columbus jersey, but lack of offensive production hampered the club’s success. They were the only outfit that made it into the playoffs with a negative goal differential at the season’s end.
2012 OFFSEASON MOVES
2012 has brought more changes. With respect to the exit, the front office parted ways with designated player Andres Mendoza, who despite being the teams leading goal scorer in 2011, was seen as a heel to many fans due to his perceived lack of work ethic, and indifferent attitude towards club supporters. “El Condor” has moved on to Atlante FC of the Mexican First Division. Also departing ways is US National team midfielder Robbie Rogers, who lead the club in assists last season with 7, but was seen as largely ineffective for a player of his supposed caliber. He has joined Leeds United, of Britain’s Football League Championship. Left back and MLS journeyman Josh Gardner was taken by expansion side Montreal Impact, and internationals Dejan Rusmir and Santiago Prim had their contract options declined, along with afore mentioned scoring legend Jeff Cunningham. Cunningham has since joined the ranks of Guatemalan side Communicaciones. Nigerian midfielder Emmanuel Ekpo has also declined a new contract with The Crew, and while no official word has been given of his current status, it seems he has moved on to Europe as well.
This winter Columbus’ front office has acted quickly to fulfill the team‘s needs. Most notably is Milovan Mirosevic, an attacking midfielder and former captain of Chilean powerhouse Universidad Catolica. At 31 years of age, Mirosevic is an experienced player who can bring an added scoring threat to the final third of the pitch. Also on the offensive side is the acquisition of Costa Rican forward Olman Vargas, who tallied 19 goals in 53 appearances with CS Herediano. Acquired in the MLS re-entry draft this past December is former New York Red Bulls center back Carlos Mendes. Like Mirosevic, he is also 31 years of age & brings a more experienced option that could possibly be paired with team captain Chad Marshall in the middle of the defense. Several picks were also acquired in the MLS Superdraft and Supplemental Draft. Most notably is their first pick; Ethan Finlay of Creighton, who scored 43 career goals, and was a finalist for the Hermann Trophy (the Heisman of college soccer). Listed as a forward, Finlay is also reportedly stellar as a wing player. Other Superdraft picks include Aubrey Perry (RCB, South Florida), and Kevan George (MF, Central Florida). Supplement draft picks included Kirk Urso (MF, North Carolina), Jamie Finch (D, Washington), Darren Amoo (FW, Liberty), who is the career leading goal scorer for Liberty, and Andrew Bulls (MF/FW Maryland-Baltimore County).
[Editor's Edit: The Crew hosted this video to get to know Ethan Finlay. You can also follow him on Twitter: @EthanFinlay16]
Two players who have grown up in the ranks of Columbus’ youth development academy were also extended contracts. Ben Speas (FW, North Carolina), originally from Stow, Ohio, was MVP of the 2011 College Cup, and was also part of three youth national championships with Columbus; Matt Lampson (GK, Ohio State) was signed to a multi-year contract, after ranking second on the all-time shut out list at Ohio State. Lampson is a native of Hilliard, Ohio.
With preseason training already underway, and the arrivals of Mirosevic and Vargas reported to be in the coming days, the final & largest piece of the puzzle it yet to be affixed in lineup of the Black & Gold. There is still no report of a designated player (the designated player rule allows MLS teams to count only a portion of a player’s income against the team’s salary cap, and is usually reserved for ‘star‘ players). It has been reported by team GM Mark McCullers that there is a fifty percent chance they will have to begin the 2012 season without a designated player. No names have been dropped, but rumors have indicated that a “well known” player could be secured for an attacking central midfield or forward role.
2012 TV RIGHTS AND FIRST GAME
Another change for the 2012 season is how fans will be watching on TV. NBC announced in 2011 that they will be televising 3 regular season MLS matches, while the NBC Sports Network will televise 38, and the ESPN family of networks are also scheduled to air 31 matches. Regionally, The Crew have partnered with Fox Sports Ohio to carry non-nationally televised games, leaving behind ONN, The Crew’s previous regional broadcaster, and carrier of the weekly information & interview feature, “Crew Xtra“.
Columbus kicks off the 2012 season on Saturday, March 10, at 6:00pm EST, on the road, against the club that ended their last two seasons: the Colorado Rapids. After a two week break, the home opener will feature The Crew hosting MLS newcomers, the Montreal Impact on Saturday, March 24th, 4:00pm EST at Crew Stadium, in Columbus, Ohio, USA.
What an amazing topic to write about for my first blog post for the 3rd year of this blog: Dave Testo, a former MLS player of the Columbus Crew, comes out! I first saw the news in Outsports, which linked to two news sources: a Canadian news article (unfortunately in French, so you’ll have to run it through a translator to read) and an interview.
Outsports quoted a portion of Testo’s remarks as translated:
“I really regret not having said publicly earlier. I fought with it all my life, my whole career. Living the life of a professional athlete and being gay is incredibly difficult. It is like wearing a secret in his bags but never yourself. It saps all your energy to you, in addition to having to perform, having to play.”
From the interview segment, Testo added:
“It’s made me realize that life is so much greater than just soccer and winning and losing. It’s about the relationships you build with the people around you. In the end, when you’re laying down on your death bed, it’s not about how much money you’ve made, how many wins you have, any of that. You want to know those connections you had to people and the difference you made in people’s lives.”
Testo becomes the first American professional soccer player to come out, and in doing so, MLS joins MLB (Billy Bean), NBA (John Amaechi), and NFL (Dave Kopay, Esera Tuaolo, Roy Simmons) as having a former player come out. Come on NHL!
Unlike the other athletes who have come out after retiring Testo is still active in his professional pursuits. While he is not currently on an MLS roster, he most recently played with the Montreal Impact—a team joining the MLS next season.
It’s a shame he is no longer on the Impact roster, as his coming out would be even more groundbreaking if he was openly gay and on an active, professional, male-team-sport roster. Regardless, at only age 30, he still has a chance to make it back to the MLS ranks, and I hope he is able to do so!
Testo’s coming out contributes to the incremental tearing down of the gay-barrier in sports. The incremental progress lends to the question: what could be next?
A retired NHL player
An obvious progression would be for a retired NHL player to come out. In many respects the NHL has shown to be the most accepting environments of the main professional sports leagues. Patrick Burke, a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers (and the subject of my previous blog post), cited to a 2006 Sports Illustrated study that nearly 80% of NHL players would support an openly gay teammate. He attributes this significant percentage to how the NHL is different from the other major professional sports leagues in America: many of the players are foreign, coming from more liberal countries.
As the culture of hockey is more progressive (contrary to the rough-and-tough image of the sport/players), I think this could happen easily within the next year.
A “big-name” retired player
While everyone is waiting for the first active player to come out, I think a step that needs to (and will have to) happen first is a “big-name” retired player coming out. “Big-name” being a name those who follow the sport only superficially would know. A player that is a regular starter, that makes the all-star tournament, that might go to a hall of fame.
To date, the names of those who have come out are really only known because they came out. Bean, Amaechi, Kopay, Tuaolo, Simmons, and now Testo, were not household names during their playing careers. They weren’t All-Stars, Pro Bowlers, or Hall of Famers. These are the types of players that would have legitimate worries about coming out while still playing. They were expendable.
In order for a player of comparable caliber to feel safe coming out while playing, a big-name player needs to come out, even if while retired, to send the message, “Yeah, I’m gay, and guess what, I was an all-star, am in the hall of fame, and helped my team win championships.”
In some respects, it’s sad that we value winning and success so much that this matters. We—the fans, media, society, teammates, etc.—should support a guy on the verge of being cut as much as we’d support the player we’ve known and cheered for years. But the reality is that the amount of impact a coming out has is proportionate to the caliber of the player.
So, with that, we need that “big-name” player to come out. And believe me, they’re out there.
Like a retired NHL player coming out, I think this could happen in the next year.
An active player
Many consider an active male player on a professional American team coming out to be THE story. It could be the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB, and maybe even MLS (or, for soccer, an EPL player coming out would have even more impact, especially globally).
That is going to be, supposedly, the quintessential moment that officially marks “the gay barrier” being torn down. At that point, all of those questions that people have only theorized about are faced: What does the team/league do? How do teammates react? What about the locker room and the showers? How do fans react (both supporting the team and rivals)? How do opponents on the field/ice/court react? How does the player play? How does the media cover the player?
So far, all of these questions have been answered with speculation.
And that speculation continues in trying to answer when this will happen and what sport it will be in.
My opinion: it will happen within 5 years, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if I read about it tomorrow.
The Columbus Crew became the first MLS team to host an LGBT (and allies) tournament over the weekend when six teams faced off in the 1st Annual Crew Pride Cup. (It very well could have been the first by any professional team in the United States, but I’m not confident enough in that to claim it as fact.)
The teams that registered got to enjoy the Crew versus Los Angeles Galaxy game the night before as part of the package that was the Pride Cup. (Well, “enjoy” the game may be a stretch after losing by a goal in stoppage time.)
The next day was the actual 6-team tournament.
Simply being able to play on the Crew field was the highlight of the event for me, especially in such a historic context. Being used to playing on pathetic fields in our regular league, the flat surface was a treat.
My team, the Loveland Frogs, fared quite well, finishing in second place. The only team to score on us was the team that finished first, “The Morning After.” (We met in the round-robin group play, losing 1-0, and then had a rematch in the finals, again losing 1-0.)
Here is a pic of the Pride Cup champions yielding a quite impressive trophy. Click the picture (or here) to see more pics from the event.
Outlook Media, particularly co-owner Michael Daniels, coordinated the event with the Crew and must be thanked. It was an incredible event to participate in, and I cannot wait to play again next year. Outlook has facilitated the connection between the local sports teams and the LGBT community on numerous occasions, with the Blue Jackets, Clippers, and Crew all having hosting “pride nights.”
On Sunday, September 25, the Columbus Crew is hosting “Pride Cup” – an 8-team, 6-v-6 adult, co-ed tournament for the LGBT community and its allies.
In doing so, based on my own knowledge of LGBT history in sport, the Crew will become the first MLS team (and perhaps professional team in any sport) to host a tournament of this nature.
Francisco Terreros, Director of Hispanic Business Development for the Crew (who has also been integral with building the relationship with the LGBT community), told me that “[The Crew] continue to work hard as we build relationships with key LGBT business and leaders, providing an entertainment outlet for that community by creating programs such as Pride Cup and Pride Night.”
(The Crew already hosted a Pride Night earlier this season.)
Terreros added that the organization is proud to be the first MLS team to host this type of tournament.
Beyond the sheer historic value of the event, the “type” of tournament is what I am looking forward to the most: the 8 teams get to play the games on the actual field at Crew Stadium!
Considering that the team I regularly play on has to play on fields filled with divots, potholes, and the most egregiously unnatural sloping you’ve ever seen, I cannot wait to play on some level, perfectly manicured grass!
Here are the important details for the tournament:
- 8 teams of 10 players (6 v 6 on the field)
- Each team is guaranteed 3 games
- $300 per team (so, $30 per player)
- Each team gets 10 t-shirts and 10 tickets to the Crew game versus the Los Angeles Galaxy the night before the tournament
So really, you’re paying $30 to get a ticket to the Galaxy game, a t-shirt, and the opportunity to play 3 games on an MLS team’s field (AND the warm fuzzy feeling you get by supporting the local LGBT and sport community). That’s quite a deal, if you ask me.
With my team already signed up in one of the 8 team spots available and knowing that 2 other teams had done so as of about a week ago, if you are interested in participating, call Konstantin Haerle at 614-447-4181 ASAP to sign up!
Lastly, it is important to recognize and thank the sponsors of the event!
The event is being presented by Innova Financial and Sky Light Financial Group. Additionally, Outlook Media is hosting the event with the Crew. Outlook has been so important with building the networks with the sports teams in Columbus, leading the coordination of the Pride Nights with the Crew, Blue Jackets, and Clippers.
Many thanks to Outlook and the Crew!!
Yesterday (July 24, 2011) was the gayest night in Major League Soccer history with both the Columbus Crew and Chivas USA (in Los Angeles) hosting “Pride Nights.” The support of the community put both clubs in the good graces of the soccer gods as each came out victorious, Columbus defeating the Portland Timbers 1-0 and Chivas USA beating the Houston Dynamo 3-0.
Outsports was one of the sponsors of the Chivas game and reported on the incredible visibility granted to the community at the game: “the Los Angeles Gay Men’s Chorus beautifully performed the national anthem; The It Gets Better Project was given a booth on the main concourse and they promoted their project all night long; And the cheerleaders performed their halftime routine to Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way.’”
Additionally, Chivas’ Justin Braun—who posed for the NOH8 campaign earlier this month—scored a hat trick! (NOH8 also was taking their iconic photos at a pre-game reception.)
See how supporting the gay community can be great for your career/team?
The Columbus Crew continued the theme as Eddie Gaven scored the game-winner in the 79th minute. I was fortunate to be at the game. A special thank you has to go out to Outlook Columbus and Innova Financial Group who helped make the event happen.
As I’ve written countless times in relation to these “Pride Nights,” if it’s only a means to sell tickets, I’m not that impressed. But when the teams embrace the theme and go beyond ticket sales, I am proud and thankful.
Chivas certainly did a wonderful job. The Crew also had the Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus to sing the national anthem.
When they did, they made the announcement (it went something like this): “In celebration of Pride Night, to sing the national anthem, the Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus.”
The song played over the speakers right before the 2nd half also happened to be Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” I don’t know if that was intentional for the night or whether it’s the sheer popularity of Gaga, but I appreciated it nonetheless.
My iPhone doesn’t exactly take the best photos, but these two show: (1) the chorus singing the anthem and (2) a group that were displaying the rainbow flag proudly on the opposite stands.
(I’ll keep an eye out for better photos taken by Outlook Columbus or others.)
I believe this makes Columbus the first city to have all of its professional teams host a “Pride Night” as the Clippers (Triple A minor league team) and the Blue Jackets have also done so. If anything, the Columbus teams are doing an excellent job of including and recognizing the gay community as an important part of the fan base. Now we just need the Buckeye to do something.