On Tuesday night, the United States walked out of the tunnel at Crew Stadium to a deafening roar. Nearly 24,000 people packed the stands, waved flags and made the venue shake with a raucous atmosphere not often seen in the U.S.
"The crowd was great and they really got behind us," Steve Cherundolo said after the match. "It was one of the best atmospheres I’ve played in with the National Team here in the States."
For fans who have spent years watching the team play in front of empty seats, have been outnumbered by opposing fans in their own country and watched other teams win matches with the help of a home-field advantage, Tuesday night was goosebump-inducing.
Writers and fans in Columbus praised the crowd. Brian Sciaretta even handed out a "10" in his post-match ratings for the first time ever, awarding it to the crowd.
Crew Stadium is the home to the World Cup qualifier against Mexico every four years. After three 2-0 wins with a pro-U.S. crowd, against an opponent where that is seemingly impossible, it has earned a reputation as one of the homes for U.S. soccer. But Tuesday night's atmosphere was so special that is has prompted some to ask why the U.S. doesn't play every key match in Columbus.
In the afterglow of the show that the city put on in support of the U.S. just a few days ago, it is easy to get swept away in the slew of well-deserved compliments for the crowd. Nobody will ever forget the sea of flags in the Americans' first match on September 11 since 2001. It was an amazing night, but it is important to keep things in perspective.
Columbus has served the U.S. extraordinarily well, as evidenced by their undefeated record there, but it is not the fortress of American fervor that many have made it out to be.
While the Americans' first Mexico qualifier there in 2001 was a pro-U.S. crowd that few ever thought possible against El Tri, there was more green in the stands in 2005. In 2009, nearly half of the stadium was cheering on the Mexicans as the Americans' home-field advantage continued to dip.
The U.S. played two matches at Crew Stadium in 2004 before less-than-impressive crowds too. Just 9,137 fans showed up to see the Americans beat Grenada in their first qualifier for the 2006 World Cup and a mere 9,088 were there later that cycle to see the already-qualified U.S. draw Jamaica.
Fans are not the only ones with a selective memory about the Americans' trips to Columbus either.
"It was really an electric, pro-American atmosphere and that’s such an awesome thing," Tim Howard said on Tuesday. "Hats off to the fans and people in Columbus and that’s not the first time; it’s happened over-and-over."
Nothing will take away from the crowd that helped the U.S. push past Jamaica, but Crew Stadium has had its series of blips too. It is also important to consider the opponent on Tuesday night.
The Reggae Boyz don't have a strong following in their own country, let alone in the U.S. where there are fewer than 1,000,000 Jamaicans. American fans didn't have to fight 31,689,000 soccer-crazy Mexicans for tickets, or 1,648,968 Salvadorans.
The sport has grown exponentially since 2004 and small crowds were the norm that year, but the concerning trend of more and more green each time Mexico visits Columbus is a concern. Might Tuesday signal a shift in the support Columbus offers to unmatched consistent packed pro-U.S. crowds?
It is possible that crowds like Tuesday becomes the norm in Columbus, but unlikely. After all, there isn't anywhere that the Americans have found consistent favorable crowds regardless of the opponent. The closest is Portland, where the crowd that saw the U.S. beat Costa Rica in 1997 is still remembered as one of the best ever. The U.S. played there again a year later, but they haven't been back since. As long as JELD-WEN Field has turf, Portland won't host any qualifiers.
Crew Stadium is a fantastic home for the U.S. The Americans should return there next year when they host Mexico in a World Cup qualifier and probably again four years later when El Tri come back to the country. The USSF will choose Columbus to host some other matches in between two and if the crowds are anything like they were on Tuesday, the goosebumps will be back.
But even on the heels of an amazing night, it is important to remember that Tuesday night isn't the norm in Columbus. Crew Stadium will continue to get matches, but not every big match and the city is not a sure-fire guarantee to give the U.S. an atmosphere that everyone dreams of. Nowhere is.