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The Sports Page: Crew is Winning, Fans not Attending

 Corey Barnes The Sports Page: Crew is Winning, Fans not Attending
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The Columbus Crew justified their first place slotting in the Eastern Conference on Saturday with a 3-1 home victory over the New England Revolution. Though the Black and Gold went to halftime down by a goal, they came roaring back and with some defensive help from the Revolution were able to get three points at home.

New England drew first ink in the 45th minute thanks to a goal by Benny Feilhaber. He blasted a line drive from the top of the box past a sprawling Will Hesmer to give the visitors the edge. Yet the Crew did not fear the halftime deficit. In the 54th minute, Revs keeper Matt Reis lost his clean sheet thanks to an own goal by defender Kevin Alston. A Columbus pass was popped by Alston over Reis’s head for the first goal.  In the 75th minute the Crew had another opportunity with a corner kick. Josh Gardner delivered a strong pass into the box where Julius Jones was waiting with a header. Not content with a one goal advantage, the Crew added a third goal in the 81st minute thanks to Emilio Renteria’s fifth goal of the season. Robbie Rogers’ assist pass through the box was approximately as deceptive as a kickball rolling at the family picnic, so Renteria squared up and hammered it home. This was a good win for the Crew, especially considering that stalwart Eddie Gaven did not suit up to play due to a right leg contusion. Columbus is now 2-0-4 when trailing at halftime, has 37 points in the year, and sports a record of 10-7-7. The Crew is 3-2 in their last five games and faces a crucial matchup with the second place Philadelphia Union this Saturday. The question is, will anyone be there to see it?

Major League Soccer is doing quite well for itself. The number of teams has ballooned from the founding 10 to 18 (soon to be 19 with Montreal), a premier market has been found in the Pacific Northwest, and the most recent television coup is a possible game changer. Earlier this month Major League Soccer announced a groundbreaking national TV deal with NBC Sports (formerly known as Versus) beginning in 2012. Forty five MLS games will be broadcast during the 2012 season – two regular season and two playoff games on NBC, 38 regular season games and three playoff contests on NBC Sports. This is a shot in the arm for a league that is already showing healthy growth. The record for highest average attendance for a season is being rewritten this year. All arrows are pointing up. So why am I concerned? The Columbus Crew rank dead last in attendance this season. The league is overall averaging 17,444 fans– their highest in their history – but the Crew is the low end of that column bringing in 10,882 patrons every home game. Last year Columbus averaged 14,642 people per game which means this season’s numbers are a 26% drop from 2010. On average the stadium is only 53% full. Those are Florida Marlins numbers. That is a shame.

Now, I am trying to be realistic about this. I know that Columbus will not be outdrawing Seattle anytime soon (their stadium holds 35,700). I realize that the team no longer has that new club smell and the polish of a fresh franchise may have dulled a bit. Additionally the Black and Gold have struggled mightily on the field for much of this year which may have turned away the casual fans. But the play is picking up. The Crew is back in first place. Also, this is a growing city and the only other game in town is the Clippers. Where is everyone? The Nordecke is always filled to the gills but they cannot carry the team financially. This is a squad only three years removed from a championship, don’t forget that. The Crew is getting primed for the playoffs; it would be a shame if you just learned their names in November.

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