If there is one thing that unites all football fans it is the desire to travel for games. The chance to see other parks, other cultures, and other ways that supporters follow the game seems to be something that all fans want to do.
Whether it is simply a two hour drive to Newcastle or a two week vacation to China there is this desire to see other things so that one can gain a greater understanding of how the game is played in the region.
On Sunday an international audience will likely get one of their first chances to see Columbus, Ohio when their hometown team, Crew Soccer Club, host the Portland Timbers in the 2015 Major League Soccer Cup.
While the match-up might not feature teams from Los Angeles or New York or the likes of Steven Gerrard or Didier Drogba it will perhaps provide the greatest chance to see what America’s soccer culture really looks like.
Although MLS might not get the sexy match-up to help boost television ratings it will have the chance to showcase two teams that perhaps best represent its goals and objectives.
Over the past five to ten years the league has done an about face on how it would like to be portrayed. Rather than continuing to focus on being like the National Football League it has shifted its focus towards emulating the non-lemon shaped football leagues.
The Timbers, whose lineage dates back to the North American Soccer League and came up from the lower divisions, and Crew SC, who had a soft re-branding last season and whose supporters are nicknamed the Nordecke, are perfect examples of this.
These teams might not be the Manchester United or Chelsea’s of North American football. But they are a perfect mix of the history of the game here as well as the European and Latin American elements that have permeated through the game here over the past forty to fifty years.
The site and locale also helps. That MLS in their 20th season will play their final in the first ever soccer-specific stadium built in North America, Mapfre Stadium in Columbus, is a huge marker for the league.
Mapfre is not exactly the biggest stadium in MLS (it has a capacity of 20,145 which is the fifth lowest in the league) nor is it the fanciest stadium in the league. But Columbus is a town that is firmly behind their team and is a soccer mad city.
This is not the first time that Mapfre and the city of Columbus have hosted a major football event. In addition to the Crew, Mapfre has also served as a frequent destination for U.S. Soccer.
It did play host to six matches during the 2003 Women’s World Cup the city is perhaps better known for their affiliation with the United States Men’s National Team.
Over ten USMNT matches have been played at Mapfre (previously known as Columbus Crew Stadium) since the stadium was built in 1999. It is where the fabled Dos a Cero gained steam after four consecutive 2-0 wins by the United States over their hated rival, Mexico.
The last drubbing was even sweeter with the United States clinching a spot in the 2014 World Cup.
Of course Portland bring their own sense of culture and flair to the match. Aside from the bearded warrior, midfielder Nat Borchers, and a supporter who wields a chainsaw the Timbers supporters are some of the most passionate and loyal fans in the league.
Their extravagant tifos and capos might not make it Columbus due to stadium regulations but the supporters will still be able to sing “You Are My Sunshine,” a song that is sung in memory of supporter Timber Jim’s daughter Hannah during the 80th minute.
It has become as much a part of the Timbers culture and who they are as “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is for Liverpool.
The Crew SC supporters are also not exactly known for being silent during a match and will likely be as boisterous as their guests on Sunday.
Founded in 2008 after the three supporters groups (Crew Supporters, The Hudson Street Hooligans, and La Turbina Amirilla) combined, the Nordecke or the North Corner more than hold their own against other supporters of groups.
Their outreach has helped make Mapfre stadium a very difficult place to play for incoming teams.
With both sides providing their own unique culture and history Sunday’s match between Portland and Columbus should be fascinating to watch.
Although Columbus might not be Los Angeles or New York it is a hotbed for soccer in the country and has more than shown itself to be a positive representative of the game.
For more on MLS Cup, including a full preview of the game, check out this week’s Hold the Back Page podcast.