Columbus Crew SC considering move to Austin

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FC Cincinnati defeated Columbus Crew SC, 1-0, before 30,160 fans during a Wednesday, June 14 match at Nippert Stadium. FC Cincinnati head coach Alan Koch spoke to members of the media afterward.
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Big changes could be coming to the Major League Soccer landscape as Columbus Crew SC owner-operator Anthony Precourt is reportedly considering moving the club to Austin, Texas. 

Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl reported in a late Monday tweet that Precourt is seeking a new downtown soccer venue for Crew SC, and that Precourt would move the team to Texas if his stadium push fails. 

The Columbus Dispatch issued a similar report.

Both reports indicated Precourt appeared to be in some advanced talks with parties in Austin about the logistics of moving Crew SC to the city.

Precourt bought Crew SC, one of MLS’s original franchises, in 2013. At the time, he said publicly he intended to keep the club in Ohio’s capital city.

Columbus’ current soccer venue, Mapfre Stadium, was the first soccer-specific stadium built in America. Crew SC moved there after playing its first MLS seasons at the cavernous, 100,000-seat Ohio Stadium on the Ohio State University campus.

The stadium, which was better known as Crew Stadium for the majority of its existence, served as American club soccer’s industry standard for years and remains a popular destination for U.S. Soccer men’s and women’s national team matches. 

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But with the development of American soccer-stadium infrastructure in recent years, tastes were elevated and perspectives on Mapfre Stadium changed for the worse. 

Some of the stadium’s features are widely viewed as outdated and its location at the Ohio State Fairgrounds is miles from Columbus’ urban core. 

 A stadium discussion in Columbus has been bubbling beneath the surface for years because of these very issues. The discussion should quickly move to the forefront of issues facing the city – Wahl reported Precourt will hold a Tuesday press conference regarding his plans to move the club. 

ANALYSIS: How could a Columbus Crew SC move impact FC Cincinnati?

Futbol Club Cincinnati, an applicant for MLS expansion, is hardly a bystander in this situation. The club could be affected in a number of ways by the actions of Precourt and the Columbus organization.

There’s no easy answer regarding whether Crew SC’s could-be move helps or hurts FC Cincinnati’s MLS bid, but what’s obvious is that the answer isn’t clear-cut in either direction.

It’s also likely the situation in Columbus is a new “X” factor in the club’s expansion bid, and is subject to many different interpretations. 

Opponents of FC Cincinnati’s inclusion in MLS have argued that the close proximity of Columbus and Cincinnati (about 100 miles) worked against FC Cincinnati’s bid. Opponents posited that Ohio could only support one MLS franchise. 

Absent an MLS team in Columbus, Cincinnati could step in as the state’s unquestioned and premier soccer market.

While it remains to be seen if Ohio could support two MLS teams, Cincinnati would surely settle for being the lone first-division club in the Buckeye State if it came to that. 

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But don’t go cheering for Columbus to pack up and leave tomorrow. The club’s departure isn’t necessarily a positive for Cincinnati’s second-year United Soccer League team.

The situation is far more complex than that. 

The two teams held the shared promise of co-existing peacefully – even benefitting from each other – as Ohioan MLS clubs. A June 14 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match between Columbus and FC Cincinnati proved that and offered a glimpse into what still could end up being a great sports rivalry.

The match at the University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium drew more than 30,000 fans, furthering the idea that FC Cincinnati’s presence in MLS could be mutually beneficial to the two clubs. 

If Columbus moved to Austin, there would be no other MLS club for FC Cincinnati to play off of geographically.

In that scenario, Cincinnati’s closest geographic rival in MLS would be the Chicago Fire – a team that plays some five hours from the Queen City. 

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