September 28, 2011 was a historic milestone for the University of Akron’s FirstEnergy Stadium-Cub Cadet Field as a record crowd of 5,819 turned out to watch the Zips take on The Ohio State University in an epic men’s soccer match. Similar crowds of 5,241 (vs. Cleveland State) and 4,301 (vs. New Mexico) also took place in 2011.
Those records are likely to be shattered when the Columbus Crew comes to town to play their U.S. Open Cup match on June 17th. The Crew will bring their supporters up from Columbus and all around Ohio, but so will their opponent, Indy Eleven.
The Indianapolis side are off to a strong start in their NASL existence, the most impressive being the sellout crowds at Carroll Stadium.
The Crew shouldn’t view this match as a road trip. This is friendly territory so to speak.
Akron and the rest of NE Ohio is a soccer hotbed, home to one of the most successful college soccer programs in the entire country in the University of Akron. Caleb Porter and now Jared Embick are known for churning out pro soccer players at a prolific rate, from Crew teammates Wil Trapp and Chad Barson to Seattle Sounders defender DeAndre Yedlin (and a lot more in between).
NE Ohio is also home to a tremendous amount of Crew supporters from Canton to Cleveland to Youngstown and everything in between. This match is an exercise in growing the Crew brand, but also growing the game in a World Cup year.
The region has been a great place recently to find great players. Just ask the Crew, who have found some gems in local players like Josh Williams (Copley), Ben Speas (Stow), and Brad Stuver (Cleveland). The Portland Timbers have had similar success in the area, landing Darlington Nagbe (Lakewood), Michael Nanchoff (North Royalton), and Ben Zemanski (Akron).
This game is something that is exciting for everyone, even for a coach who has won some serious hardware in his career.
“The U.S. Open Cup has been around for 100 years and is an important tournament in the landscape of U.S. Soccer,” Embick stated. “It is a tremendous honor to host the Columbus Crew in an Open Cup match and a tribute to our school and soccer program. We have a lot of passionate soccer fans in Northeast Ohio and I feel this will go a long way towards connecting the people of Northeast Ohio to The Crew and helping them grow their brand. But more importantly, Columbus has a tremendous team that plays attractive soccer and I am happy our fans will have the opportunity to watch them play on our home field.”
For a player like Barson, it represents a return to where it all started.
“At Akron, the fans are great. It’s electric; it’s a very live atmosphere. Obviously I’m very excited; Akron is very near and dear to me. I played there for four years. It’s one of the best fields around, so we’ll definitely be able to play our style of soccer. To be able to go up there, see old friends and play in front of the community again will be great.”
Speas is excited about the opportunity as well.
“It’s exciting. All my family lives 10 minutes away from there and that’s where I went to college, so I think it’s great. It’ll be a great atmosphere. Students probably won’t be there because it’s in the summer, but there are still a lot of soccer fans up there that will support the Crew. I’ll have a bunch of people there supporting the Crew and supporting me.”
Tickets for this great match will be made available sometime this week.