SACRAMENTO, Calif. — We’re here on the eve of the 2033 MLS Cup to discuss how far the league has come since that “little incident” involving Austin and Columbus 15 years ago.
Joining us at today’s news conference is MLS commissioner David Beckham, who grabbed the baton from Don Garber a decade ago and has run an amazing leg by helping the league sprint past the Chinese Super League and Liga MX to become the fourth-most-attended soccer league in the world, with an average crowd of 31,256.
Beckham: “Look out Premier League, we’re gunning for you.”
You certainly are. Who knew that when Austin wrangled the Crew from Columbus in 2018, we would be here today celebrating in the capital of California, where Sacramento will play San Diego in an all-West Coast championship game. The festivities coincide with soccer passing baseball as the third-most-popular sport in the United States, behind football and basketball.
Beckham: “And look out, NBA, because we’re gunning for you.”
Indeed you are. And maybe the NFL, too. As parents increasingly prevent their kids from playing football — even after the NCAA finally addressed the concussion issue by banning facemasks, which deters players from leading with their heads — soccer has steadily climbed the ladder of acceptance among fans who 30 years ago wanted nothing to do with the sport.
Wil Trapp: “How the demographic has changed! Soccer in the U.S. was still a niche sport when I played in MLS. Now? The Gen-Xers and Millennials have displaced the baby boomers as the main consumers of sports. And they love soccer.”
As most of you know, Wil Trapp, at age 40, is among the youngest coaches in MLS. He joined Sacramento after having once played for the Crew in Columbus, before the team left in 2019. Or was stolen. Semantics. Either way, Columbus’ loss was FC Cincinnati’s gain.
(Still) embittered Columbus Crew fan, shouting from back of media room: “We coulda been a contender … as an even better sports city. But noooo. Anthony Precourt won. We lost.”
Beckham: “Don’t blame Precourt entirely. Maybe 90 percent his fault, but to this day, I believe Columbus could and would have saved its team had the city’s wealthiest movers and shakers realized what they were losing — the future. The big-money people, including the most well-heeled corporations, chose not to go all-in because they failed to see that in 15 years the MLS would be mainstream. We’re talking a $400 million expansion fee now. Where there is no vision, the people perish. In this case, the people included the Columbus population, which now must satisfy itself with a United Soccer League franchise.”
Well said, Mr. Beckham. Columbus still has the NHL and its Buckeyes, and many are content with that, contending that it’s not about getting bigger but better. But growth is not always about quantity. It’s also about relevance and respect. Even self-respect. As MLS has grown, Columbus finds itself on the outside looking in, its nose smooshed against the window as cities such as Nashville, Detroit, Raleigh and St. Louis party inside. They saw the wave and yelled, “Cowabunga.”
(Still) embittered Crew fan: “We remain a wonderful city. But who wants to live with ‘if only‘?”
Beckham: “You mean like Austin? Still shaking my head it never truly supported the Crew after it stole, er, got the team. Shoulda done your homework, Anthony. Austin is the Berkeley of the South. Protesting is a way of life down there. #SaveTheView and all that. Lucky for you, MLS came to your rescue by allowing you to move the franchise to Sacramento in 2025.”
(Still) embittered Crew fan: “Shame on you, Precourt and MLS. And shame on ColumbUS, too.”
Trapp: “Crew SAC took some getting used to. I’m a Columbus guy. Loved my time there. A shame. But I’m glad to be part of what’s happening in Sacramento. The future is bright.”