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The Columbus Crew: One Team, Many Players, No Significance, No Rivalry


Instinctively, I think the Columbus Crew game on Saturday as a big event for the Vancouver Whitecaps. But for the life of me I can't figure out why.

Mostly, I think it's just natural reflex inherited from our Ontario brothers who actually hate the Crew. Like all Canadians, I am surrounded at all times by the Toronto media, and as you're doubtless aware Toronto FC fans hate Columbus's balls. So every time Toronto FC is in Ohio there's a raft of stories along the lines of "THIS IS LIKE FIGHTING HITLER TIMES A MILLION" so my blood naturally gets stirred up. This isn't a criticism of the soccer media; I like to think that my stories every time we play the Impact has the same affect. I'm just saying, it's true. It makes me associate the Crew with emotions I don't actually have.

What can have I got against Columbus? I've been to Columbus and think that it's a lovely city. Simple, well-laid out, and fun. Their soccer-specific stadium is, sadly, a little empty much of the time but it's also a heck of a place to watch a soccer game. The Crew formerly employed one of my very favourite MLS offensive players, Guillermo Barros Schelotto. Goalkeeper Will Hesmer gave us one of the best moments of the 2010 season when he scored a dramatic last-ditch equalizer against Toronto. Their style of play is a bit stultifying these days, a bit low-scoring, but it's full of decent fundamental defense and sound midfield play rather than bunkering, hoofing, and hoping. There's a lot to like about the Columbus Crew. But, of course, not too much. They are the adversary, after all.

The example of the Columbus Crew really illustrates one of the problems I'm having, as a Vancouver Whitecaps fan, to adjusting to Major League Soccer. It's an inevitable problem whem an existing team moves to a different league and Whitecaps fans are far from the first to deal with it, but it's a problem all the same: who are these guys? Why should we care beyond "meh, three points is three points"?

Back in the old second-division days, there was a good, solid reason to hate most of the teams (or, at least, most of the ones that lasted more than half an hour). The Puerto Rico Islanders were a tough team in a difficult stadium filled with lousy sons-of-bitches, Miami FC was a decrepit shambling wreck of a team in a horrible stadium and a lousy market kept alive as a loss leader by unfeeling corporate robots, the Montreal Impact were the Montreal Impact... you get my point. But most teams in Major League Soccer, apart from the Seattle Sounders and the Portland Timbers (who we know from the division two days anyway) and Toronto FC (which is really as much about the "Toronto" as the "FC") are just boring, faceless entities.

I've harped on this point a bit in the past, but in truth it's hard not to. Half the fun of soccer is getting emotionally worked up to the point that you want to see the opposition burn in hell. But MLS is a relatively sanitized league largely built on the "family-friendly soccertainment" model. It's filled with new expansion teams, poorly-supported irrelevancies, and, sometimes, the looming threat of relocation. The league is also at nineteen teams and expanding to twenty, which dilutes the amount of loathing there is to go around. It makes it hard for new fans to get their hate on.

So I'll be cheering on the Whitecaps to win Saturday, of course. But I won't be able to view our enemies with anything more than vaguely uninterested disdain. The latest side whose only offense was that they got in our way. I'll be straight: that's a lot less fun. Hopefully that'll improve in a few seasons as we get used to the league and figure out why all these guys are really bastards. But not yet.