Six months ago, the original idea of going to Columbus was just about going to see a match there, talk to some people who were probably at USA-Mexico, and enjoy a long-weekend road trip. I thought to myself that I wasn't going to restrict myself to Crew vs. Union, but rather something that fit into my work schedule, when I could take a couple of days off. Then the MLS schedule came out and revealed that both road games in Harrison, NJ, were scheduled for Wednesday nights. Red Bull New York away had been my Union road trip of choice, instead of DC for the past two seasons, but I'm NOT dealing with the NJ Turnpike on a weekday. I'd rather drink a Jersey Turnpike.
I had an impending void in my life. I don't sit in the River End, nor am I a member of the Sons of Ben. But I really look forward to being a temporary member for Red Bull away. I then thought of my decision to attend a match at Columbus Crew Stadium, and changed my feeling to that it had to be when Crew were hosting the Union. Philly visits Ohio's captial city twice: the first and last home matches of the year for Columbus. October is out of the question for me, what with college football in that area and all, so the match in March was the one for me.
I couldn't get time off of work for the Friday before due to being in work training. Then again, I couldn't think of anything to do in Columbus for an entire day before the match anyway, so it was probably for the best. The plan was to set out super-early on Saturday morning, arrive in just enough time to meet up with other Union fans making the trip, and do some pre-gaming. I had so much trouble sleeping the night before because I was so amped up. Never has anyone wanted to be in Columbus so badly (I don't think that's hyperbole, either).
My alarm went off at 4:00 AM Saturday morning. I had my bag already packed - pretty remarkable preparation for a procrastinator - and I hopped out of bed (literally jumped out like a rabbit) and went to shower. Because no one wants to be sitting in a car for 9 hours with any b.o., let alone their own. I picked up a few travel items and a DD breakfast sandwich, and embarked on my journey around 5:15 AM. The most impressive thing about the drive out there is the toll for the Pennsylvania Turnpike. TWENTY-SEVEN DOLLARS! TWENTY-SEVEN FRIGGIN DOLLARS! AND I DIDN'T EVEN CROSS OVER INTO NEW YORK CITY! The round trip was going to cost me almost as much in tolls as it did for the hotel room. Crazy. The only other notable thing about the drive was the amount of road kill and resultant blood-stained highway. I felt like I traveled onto the set of a Quentin Tarantino film. Pretty gruesome stuff.
I arrived at my hotel around 2:00 PM. I think I made pretty good time, so I got in my hotel room, freshened up, and got on Twitter to find out where my Union fan brethren were. Those efforts proved futile, so I walked over to the stadium. Being that my room was 0.7 miles from the stadium, and 0.8 miles from the bar, I'd say my preparation for this trip was better than the Union's, but we'll get to that later. Walking through the fairgrounds and by a police training facility, I noticed that the wind was quite a bit stronger by the stadium than it was by the hotel. No matter, I planned to be jumping around causing all sorts of ruckus anyhow. I see the stadium in the distance, set in a large parking area, possibly even larger than what is available to us at PPL Park. Their parking is $10. Color me jealous.
Not much was said to me by the home town fans. No jeers, no odd stares - it's as if I wasn't there. The resounding sentiment was they were happy I decided to come to the game. The match was not close to a sell-out. I took a swift perusing gander around the facility just to see what was what. The most interesting thing I found was a stylish pub in the second deck. The Upper 90 Club has flat screen tv's, a wide variety of draft beers, and is open as long as the stadium is. I got updated on the NCAA Basketball Tournament while sampling the local Crew Brew (terrible, but not quite as bad as the attendance for their home opener). The Crew fans in the pub were polite and engaging. They were genuinely fascinated that I had trekked all the way out there.
There were a few other Union fans that made the trip, and we were stationed in a section in the upper deck. The only draw back to the section was that it was in a wind tunnel. I was misled into believing that it was Spring. While my body was warm enough, my hands and face were frozen (not that we had much to cheer about in the first half anyway). I warmed up during halftime in the Upper 90 Club, with beer and more conversations with Crew fans. Some of them had connections to the Philly area, and some consider the Union their second favorite MLS team. Leo Fernandes scored Philly's lone goal while I was still in there, and while I'm normally extremely superstitious, I returned to the section to finish out standing and cheering with my blue and gold friends. Alas, the match did not end with the draw I had predicted, but I was part of a fantastic a cappella version of "Bohemian Rhapsody."
The night concluded with me endeavoring into a Columbus Crew Supporters' bar: 4th Street Bar. The outside reminded me of several bars I've seen in this area, as the building was originally a house. The wood floors and brick walls were adorned with flat screen tv's and soccer memorabilia. THIS is where the odd stares were volleyed my way. I looked for the other Union fans who said they would be there, walking around the entire footprint of the pub. I smiled the whole time, anticipating someone saying something derogatory about me or my favorite team, but it didn't happen. I didn't find conflict or my fellow Union-ites, so I went to find a drink. As soon as I pulled out money to signal to the bartender that I was prepared to order, a Crew supporter came up to me, asked me what I wanted, and put it on his tab. And handed me a shot of Jameson. He and his friends admired my dedication, and kept me company for the night out. I was somewhat of a VIP, getting credit for venturing into their spot after a loss. Roughly twenty Crew fans came up to me to get my story. I paid for next to nothing that night. The president of the Crew Union (that's the name of their supporters' group - it confused me at first, too) was on the other side of the bar, and unannounced presented me with a Crew scarf. I wore it for the rest of the night to show my appreciation, though I swear it gave me a rash (kidding!).
The result of the match left me disappointed, and Villanova didn't help matters by losing later that night, but overall, Columbus is a place that I will visit again. The soccer match that I attend will more likely be the next installment of the US-Mexico rivalry. However, the Union should be improved from last year, and if their playoff life depends on their last few matches, there IS that matter of a late October match against Crew...