Columbus has a pedigree as a soccer market that extends beyond the Crew or Major League Soccer. Starting with the Columbus Magic in 1979, the capital city has played host to a number of teams and exhibitions over almost forty years. Taken together, these histories depict a city with a tradition of support for soccer – provided those putting on the games have appropriately prepared. This is part of an irregular series that explores the history of soccer in central Ohio.
In 1991, soccer in the United States was in a state of transition. The men’s national team had appeared in their first FIFA World Cup the previous summer, but the professional game was a patchwork of outdoor and indoor leagues. The strongest of the outdoor leagues, the APSL, had nine teams – the most popular of which attracted about 5,000 fans per game. The indoor Major Soccer League was slightly better off with an average attendance of 6,566. It was also closer to central Ohio via the Cleveland Crunch.
During the summer of 1991, and against this backdrop, Columbus played host to two games at Dublin High School in the northwestern suburbs of the city. The first, between the Crunch (in a rare outdoor appearance) and Dutch club PSV Eindhoven on June 14, drew a crowd that was estimated at 7,000 people. The second, about a month later, drew an overflow crowd of 10,256 for a qualifying game between the Olympic teams of the United States and Panama. Future Columbus Crew forward Dante Washington scored twice in a resounding 7-1 victory that cemented the team’s path towards the Barcelona games.
The games drew attention to the capital city during the build-up to the 1994 World Cup, as cities were competing to be included in the schedule. In press coverage the next day, US Soccer executive director Hank Steinbrecher was quoted as saying:
“Columbus soccer fans did an exceptional job … the players saw the crowd and turned it up a notch.”
While Columbus did not end up as a host city for the highly successful tournament, the appetite of central Ohio fans for high level soccer helped lay the groundwork for the launch of Major League Soccer three years later as cities again jockeyed for a small number of positions in the young league.
In that competition, Columbus prevailed – on the strength of a significant number of pledges season ticket purchases by individuals and corporations, and the track record of games like the 1991 exhibitions.
A History of Soccer in Columbus from BeMassive
The Year in American Soccer: 1991 from David Litterer
“Dutch team exhibition pumps up soccer fans”, by Graydon Hambrick; Columbus Dispatch, June 15, 1991; page 1D-2D
“U.S. hammers Panama in Olympic soccer”, by Matthew Marx; Columbus Dispatch, July 21, 1991; page 8E