The American Soccer League name has been used by three separate professional leagues in America. The second version of the ASL had the longest duration of the three, lasting from 1933-1983. Near the end of the ASL’s long fight with the more popular North American Soccer League, Columbus was awarded a team.
In 1979, the Columbus Magic joined the ASL. They shared Franklin County Stadium (later renamed Cooper Stadium) with the Columbus Clippers, the minor league baseball team that was then the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Yankees. The commissioner of the league was none other than former Boston Celtics legend Bob Cousy. At the time, the ASL was America’s second division.
In their first season, the Magic won the Eastern Division, finishing with a record of 17-8-3 (W-L-T). The team scored 55 goals, gave up 41, and somehow amassed 140 points in only 28 games. The ASL awarded five points per win, two points for a tie, and one point for each goal scored (up to a maximum of three goals per game). Forward Ron Wig was the team’s leading scorer, putting in thirteen goals while assisting on two more.
To advance to the ASL’s championship game, the Magic had to first defeat the Pennsylvania Stoners in the semifinals over a two-leg series. They did so, winning each game 2-1. However, once in the championship, they fell to the Sacramento Gold, 1-0.
The Magic’s second season was also their last. In just one year, they dropped from first to last in the Eastern Division, finishing 11-14-3 and only picking up 93 points along the way. After the 1980 season, the team folded.
It would only take four years for Columbus to get another professional team. This time, they took soccer indoors. The Columbus Capitals entered the American Indoor Soccer Association before the 1984/1985 season. The Capitals played at Battelle Hall, part of the Greater Columbus Convention Center. It was the inaugural season of the new league, which was the second division of American indoor soccer after the Major Indoor Soccer League.
After the 40 game regular season, the Capitals finished second in the league, only behind the in-state rivals Canton Invaders. Columbus finished 26-14, scoring 305 goals and giving up 261. The Capitals had the leading scorer in the AISA that year. Yugoslavian Lesh Shkreli ended the season with 59 goals and 44 assists. In the playoffs, Columbus was knocked out in the semifinals by the Louisville Thunder in a three-game series.
The following season, the Capitals finished second to last. They only accumulated 13 wins in the midst of losing 27 times. Their goal difference was -70. Lesh Shkreli was still the team’s top scorer, but he ended with only 29 goals and 30 assists in 1985/1986. At the end of the year, the Capitals folded.
In just a seven year period, residents of Columbus had witnessed both outdoor and indoor professional soccer teams. Both had very successful first seasons, only to flop in their sophomore season and fold afterward.
It would be another ten years before Columbus had a hometown soccer team. As a matter of fact, they were given three in a span of three years.
In 1994, the Columbus Xoggz became a member of the United States Interregional Soccer League, giving the city their first outdoor team since the Magic folded in 1980. Playing in the Midwest Division, the Xoggz finished third. They finished the regular season with an 11-7 record, accumulating 112 points. Their season ended after losing to the Milwaukee Rampage in the divisional semifinals, 1-0.
The next year, the league was renamed as the United States International Soccer League. Playing in the West Conference of the Midwest Division, the Xoggz finished in second place with a 17-3 record and 146 points. They were knocked out of the playoffs once again in the divisional semifinals by the Milwaukee Rampage.
After the 1995 season, the team was renamed the Ohio Xoggz. They remained in the same location, playing at Dublin Coffman high school’s soccer field. The team was almost as bad as the name (Xoggz has no actual meaning). They finished second to last in the Central Division of the Western Conference in the newly named United Systems of Independent Soccer Leagues, finishing 6-12. The Xoggz folded at the end of 1996.
During this time, a female team known as the Columbus Ziggx (1995-1998) also existed. Founded in 1995, they played in the United States Interregional Women’s Soccer League. They finished third in the Central Division in their first season of play with a 5-4 record. The league was then renamed the United Soccer Leagues W-League. In 1996, they finished third in their conference again, this time with a 7-3 record. In 1997, the Ziggx played in the Midwest Division, where they finished second. In the playoffs, they lost to the Chicago Cobras in overtime, 2-1. The Ziggz last season was in 1998. They ended in fourth place in the Central Division with a 6-7 record. The team disbanded at the end of the year.
The Canton Invaders, another founding member of the American Indoor Soccer Association in 1984, moved to Columbus for the 1996/1997 season. After winning five indoor championships while in Canton, the Invaders didn’t have the same success in Columbus. The AISA became the National Professional Soccer League before the 1990-1991 season. In their one year in Columbus, the Invaders only managed a 5-35 record playing in the Central Division of the American Conference. Also playing their home games at Battelle Hall, their goal difference was -416 for the year. The team disbanded after only one season in Columbus.
In 1993, Major League Soccer, America’s first true professional league since the NASL ended operations in 1984, was announced. One of the ten original MLS teams was awarded to Columbus on June 15th, 1994. American sports pioneer extraordinaire Lamar Hunt became the owner.
The team was officially named on October 17th, 1995. At the end of a month-long contest, only one entry suggested the team be named the Columbus Crew. However, that name prevailed, and the Crew started play in MLS’s first season in 1996.
On February 6th, MLS held their very first player draft. Columbus was awarded the first pick, and with it they chose Brian McBride. McBride went on to play in over 150 games for the team, scoring 62 goals. In 2011, he was the first player to be inducted into the Crew’s Circle of Honor.
Over the years, Columbus has become a staple in American soccer. After playing at Ohio State University’s football stadium, the Horseshoe, for three years, Hunt planned and funded the first ever major league soccer-specific stadium to be built in America (Charleston’s Blackbaud Stadium opened a month before Crew Stadium). His plans were approved for a stadium on the Ohio State Fairgrounds, and, on May 15th, 1999, Crew Stadium was opened in front of a sell-out crowd. Columbus defeated the New England Revolution in that game, 2-0. MLS’s all-time leading scorer, Jeff Cunningham, scored the first goal.
It wasn’t until 2002 that the Crew won their first trophy. The team made it to the final of the U.S. Open Cup, the oldest soccer tournament in America. Started in 1913 as the National Challenge Cup, the tournament was renamed after Lamar Hunt in 1999 to honor his exploits of improving soccer in the States.
In the game, Columbus faced off against the Los Angeles Galaxy in front of a hometown crowd at Crew Stadium of 6,054. The Crew won the game 1-0 after a 30th minute goal by Freddy Garcia.
Just two years later, Columbus added another trophy to their cabinet. In MLS, the team that finishes in first place in the regular season is awarded the Supporters’ Shield. The Crew ended 2004 with 49 points, tied with the Kansas City Wizards for first in the league. However, both teams were tied on goal difference, the first tiebreaker. The next tiebreaker was total goals scored, and Columbus ended the season with 40 while Kansas City only had 38. 2004 wouldn’t be the last time the Crew won the Supporters’ Shield.
In 2008, everything came together perfectly for the Crew and head coach Sigi Schmid. The 2007 signing of Argentine Guillermo Barros Schelotto forever changed the landscape of Columbus soccer. The Crew rumbled through the 2008 regular season like a military tank, taking down anyone and everyone in their path.
Schelotto lead the way, finishing with seven goals, nineteen assists, and an MLS MVP trophy. The team finished with 57 points (17-7-6), six points clear of the second place Houston Dynamo. With another Supporters’ Shield in hand, the Crew moved on to the playoffs.
After beating the Kansas City Wizards over two legs and the Chicago Fire at Crew Stadium, Columbus made it to the final. There, they faced off against a trophy-less New York Red Bulls team. In the final, the Crew won 3-1. Schelotto assisted on all three goal, earning the MLS Cup MVP trophy. The win gave Columbus their first ever MLS Cup.
The next year, with a new head coach in Robert Warzycha, the Crew took home yet another Supporters’ Shield, finishing with 49 points (13-7-10), just one point above the Los Angeles Galaxy and Houston Dynamo. However, they didn’t have the same success in the playoffs as they did the previous year, losing in the first round to Real Salt Lake.
With their success in MLS play in 2008 and 2009, Columbus qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League Tournament. In the 2009/2010 version of the tournament, the Crew finished second in their group to Cruz Azul of Mexico, advancing to the quarterfinals. Once there, they played Toluca of Mexico in a two-leg series. The first leg in Columbus ended 2-2, and the Crew unfortunately lost the return leg 3-2.
In the 2010/2011 series of the CCL, the Crew finished second in their group once again, this time to Santos Laguna of Mexico. In the quarterfinals, Columbus faced off against Real Salt Lake. The first leg in Columbus ended 0-0. The return leg in Salt Lake turned into a disaster for the Crew, as they lost 4-1.
As the years go on, MLS is becoming more and more successful. Starting with only 10 teams in 1996, the league has now expanded to 19 for the 2012 season. MLS is here to stay, and so are the Crew.
Columbus has a successful professional soccer team under their wings for the first time ever. Numerous teams have come to this great city, only to fold with three years or less of existence. The Crew are now in their 17th season.
While supporting the Crew has been an up and down roller coaster over the years, fans still come back to see their beloved black and gold take the field. As the years go on, MLS will continue to become a better league, attracting more and more of the best players in the world.
Someday, just maybe, the Columbus Crew will be able to say they are the best team in the world.
Along with professional soccer, Columbus has also been home to a non-paying team. In 2003, the Columbus Shooting Stars were founded. They played in the United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League. The ULS PDL is the top level of amateur soccer in America. Their home games were played at Crew Stadium. In the Great Lakes Division of the Central Conference, the Shooting Stars finished dead last with a 2-14-2 record. The head coach of the Shooting Stars was none other than Columbus Capitals legend, Lesh Shkreli.
The Shooting Stars also had a female team that played in the USL W-League. In 2003, they finished in third place in the Midwest Division of the Central Conference with a 4-5-3 record. The Shooting Stars were inactive for the 2004 season before folding.
Columbus is also home to the Ohio State University, one of the country’s largest universities. Their men’s soccer team was started in 1953. That season, the Buckeyes finished with a 3-6-1 record. Their first game was against Denison University, where they ended as 3-0 winners.
Over the years, Ohio State has won the Big Ten regular season championship twice: in 2004 and as co-champions in 2009. They have also had success in the Big Ten Conference Tournament, winning in 2000, 2007, and 2009. The closest the Buckeyes have come to winning the NCAA College Cup was in 2007, when the made it to the championship game before ultimately losing to Wake Forest, 2-1.
The men’s side has produced quite a bit of MLS talent, including Honduras international Roger Espinoza, currently with Sporting Kansas City.
The women’s soccer team at Ohio State didn’t come about until 1993. They have won the Big Ten Tournament twice: in 2002 and 2004. Both of the Buckeyes’ soccer teams currently play at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.
MLS All-Star, MLS Cup, and U.S. International Games
Columbus has seen much more than just local soccer over the years. Crew Stadium has been the host of many U.S. international team games, both men and women, and the MLS All-Star (2000 and 2005) and Cup Championship (2001) games.
In the 2000 MLS All-Star game, the Eastern Conference defeated the Western Conference, 9-4, in what was the highest scoring MLS All-Star game ever. In 2005, the MLS All-Stars took on Fulham FC of England, former Crew player Brian McBride’s team at the time. MLS won, 4-1.
Crew Stadium was also one of the hosts of the 2003 Women’s World Cup. Six games were held in Ohio’s capital city, including a 3-0 victory by the U.S. over North Korea.
Columbus is most prominently known in world soccer for its use during the U.S. men’s FIFA World Cup qualifying campaigns. On February 28, 2001, the U.S. defeated Mexico 2-0 at Crew Stadium in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2002 World Cup. It was the beginning of the Dos a Cero mantra that still exists today.
On September 3rd, 2005, the U.S. defeated Mexico once again at Crew Stadium by the 2-0 score line in the fourth round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2006 World Cup.
The most recent U.S. vs. Mexico game in Columbus was on February 11th, 2009, when the U.S. won, you guessed it, 2-0 in the fourth round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2010 World Cup.
Even a suburb of Columbus is part of international soccer history. While qualifying for the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, the U.S. played Panama in Dublin, Ohio, in 1991. The U.S. ended up winning, 7-1. Future Crew forward Dante Washington scored twice in the victory. Over 10,000 fans were in attendance at Dublin Coffman high school.
For having only the 34th largest media market in America, Columbus has certainly put its name on the map in regards to soccer. Numerous professional, amateur, college, and international team success has been found in the middle of Ohio.
Fans have embraced their teams. The Nordecke is one of the most feared corners of any stadium in America, helping to make Crew Stadium a true fortress over the years. Connor’s Crew cheers on their fellow classmates at Ohio State, all while honoring a former fallen player.
Who ever would have thought that Columbus, Ohio, would be such an enterprising city for the world’s game?
Special thanks to the American Soccer History Archives, Steve Sirk, and anyone else on Twitter that helped me gather information for this article.