In the end, the fans of both teams came away with something to be proud of.
MLS Cup is the peak of America’s soccer season. Players and coaches who reach the championship-deciding match are rewarded with all the attention and pageantry that come with the game that will crown the new kings of Major League Soccer.
For supporters, the day is just as important.
In this year’s MLS Cup Final, Columbus Crew SC hosted the Portland Timbers at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, thus setting the stage for a pair of fans that would arrive with similar emotions and leave with opposite ones.
Planning for the match's tifo – a large, hand-painted supporters’ display – began in Columbus nearly a week before the match.
Crew SC fan Morgan Hughes was among those who made the tifo, which covered the entire Nordecke – the Crew SC supporters’ section. And while the process of creating the display took hours and thousands of dollars, for fans, the show of support is simply a calling.
“I don’t know what we add to the game day, but I don’t think it’s about that. It’s just a thing that is us, and there’s no other option,” Hughes said. “There’s probably not one concrete answer to what it brings. But if it brings anything, then that’s good.”
Columbus and Portland don’t have a history of a rivalry, so the traveling group of around 2,000 Timbers felt welcome in the friendly competition between supporters groups in and around MAPFRE Stadium.
“It was pretty incredible,” Timbers Army member Andrew Self said. “We walked past all the tailgates going on. It’s not something we do in Portland, just because we don’t have a parking lot. It’s all pre-gaming in a pub somewhere, as opposed to barbecues. And it was fun to see everyone playing cornhole and grilling and that sort of thing.”
For longtime Crew SC fan and Crew Union co-founder John Clem, that atmosphere was key.
“I think Columbus is very inclusive in general, and we’re pretty outwardly friendly unless you’re a Chicago Fire fan,” he said with a laugh. “I think it makes for a great atmosphere. It’s great that we’re so open to having people come over and introduce themselves and not have it be a big deal, which is not always the case.”
By the time Portland hoisted the trophy after 90, dramatic minutes, Timbers fans were thrilled they made the cross-country trip to see their team lift the Cup.
Portland fan David Jarvis said there was no way he was missing the final after the Timbers’ heart attack-inducing first-round win over Sporting Kansas City decided on a lengthy penalty kick shootout.
“Portland championship opportunities are so few and far between, if this team was going to have a chance to win the title, I was going to be there,” he said. “The past two months of Timbers play feel like one giant amazing dream, and to a certain extent, it still does.”
And with about 2,000 of their fans in the house, the “team of destiny” feel of Portland’s season was complete.
“I don’t believe in fate or destiny or anything like that,” Self said. “But it was just like it was meant to be.”
All was not lost for Columbus fans.
In an era when MLS is gaining steam and a national following, the city and fans of Columbus did well for themselves.
“I think longer term, it was a bigger impact to have hosted this game and lost than to have gone to…Dallas and maybe not won,” Clem said. “I think we got a lot out of hosting it because of how galvanized and excited the city was by being part of it.”