As the rogue wheel hurdled down the busy highway towards my car, I found myself with enough time to think, “wow, I didn’t expect to have a near-death experience on this trip.” That was literally my first thought as the bouncing mass of steel and rubber came into my view; not “maybe I should swerve to the shoulder. like the car in front of me did.”
In the end, the angle of the wheel was far too extreme to put my car in danger, and it bounced safely to the side of the highway without incident. Still, I wasn’t expecting something like that. Nor was I expecting such a perfect metaphor for the 20th MLS Cup final.
But metaphors can wait. We’re not quite there yet. In fact, let’s rewind a few miles.
I was about 40 miles outside of Columbus the day before the cup final when I saw the first Crew SC jersey drive past me. As excited as I was for the match, I was more excited to see how the city of Columbus would react to their MLS franchise, one of the 10 founders, not only hosting the season’s final match, but being favored in it as well. I wanted to find out just how much the city was up for this one – just how much hype came with their two-decade-old club hosting the single biggest event of the MLS season.
I avoided things like training sessions and press conferences. Let me tell you, those are novel to attend initially, but that novelty does wear off. The real exciting stuff, the real stories, are found in the supporters. It’s the guy who works at the cell phone kiosk at the mall who has printed out a plain, 8 x 11½ sheet of paper, that reads “Go Crew!” and tapes it to his stand (this really happened), who will gladly tell you his experience of being at the first match Columbus ever played. That guy will tell you more of the story than standing pitchside during a training session.
Pro tip: if you’re ever visiting a new city and want to know where the “spots” are — I mean the really great spots that the average tourist won’t ever even know about — email the local visitors bureau. If you’re lucky (like I was), you’ll get in touch with someone like Megumi with Experience Columbus, who will be more than happy to tell you where the locals love to go; or, in this case, where all the MLS Cup excitement is happening. My first night in the city was spent driving from venue to venue while Megumi emailed me addresses. At one point, I was on my way to the center of downtown where a large graphic had been placed on a skywalk when she sent an email saying, “You should head over to this brewery: tons of Crew SC fans … Also, they’re doing a live podcast recording tonight.”