Columbus Has No Offseason is an ongoing blog series from the Sports Commission, showcasing Columbus’ role as a top sports destination, from our hometown teams to the premier sports events we bring to the city.
Looking across the pitch at MAPFRE Stadium, years of team pride, community support and championship excitement feel tangible in the air. The site of victories, losses and everything in between, MAPFRE Stadium has housed beloved Columbus Crew SC for two decades and seen some of the most passionate soccer fans in the country come through its gates.
But the stadium has a storied history not only within Columbus, but also across the U.S. as a game changer in the sport of soccer.
When it opened in 1999 MAPFRE Stadium became the first soccer-specific stadium built by a Major League Soccer team, but soon it kicked off a wave of soccer-first stadiums emerging across the country. MAPFRE Stadium has been a symbol of Crew SC over the years, but it has also proven to be much more for Columbus.
From the stadium’s very first game – a sold-out 2-0 Crew SC win over the New England Revolution on May 15, 1999 – the stadium felt like something special to Columbus. As we approach the 20th anniversary of MAPFRE Stadium, formerly called Columbus Crew Stadium, we take a look back at the most memorable games and sports events the facility has held.
It didn’t take long for the MLS to acknowledge MAPFRE Stadium as an elite facility for the league. The venue was quick to host the 1999 U.S. Open Cup, the 2000 MLS All-Star Game and the 2001 MLS Cup, three premier soccer events in its first three years of operation.
The U.S. Open Cup, one of the oldest ongoing national soccer competitions in the country, returned to Columbus in 2002 and brought something special to MAPFRE Stadium. The hometown crowd celebrated as Columbus defeated the defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy to win the Cup on home turf.
Throughout the nearly two decades that would follow, MAPFRE Stadium housed the Crew through triumphs, such as saving the team from relocation, and defeats, including a heartbreaking loss to Portland in the 2015 MLS Cup Finals. As the team finds a new home arena in downtown Columbus, we’re thrilled that MAPFRE will continue to be a premier venue that serves the Columbus community for years to come.
On the National (Team) Stage
MAPFRE Stadium was built for the MLS but became a staple for the entire American soccer community at various levels. From the Ohio High School Athletic Association, which has held its soccer state championships at the stadium since 2001, to the NCAA, which brought the College Cup to Columbus in 2001 and 2003, MAPFRE Stadium is established asset in bringing sports to the city.
Both the U.S. Women’s and Men’s National Teams have found luck within the walls of MAPFRE Stadium. Columbus hosted group stage matches of the 2003 Women’s World Cup, when nearly 23,000 fans packed the stadium to see the U.S. blank North Korea, 3-0. The stadium was also one of three sites selected to host the SheBelieves Cup in 2018.
On a chilly February night in 2001, the U.S. Men’s Team started a Columbus tradition that would become known as La Guerra Fria, or “The Cold War.” The U.S. defeated Mexico 2-0 that night in the 2002 FIFA World Cup qualifying match and would go on to do the same each time the two met in Columbus in 2005, 2009 and 2015. The series became known as Dos a Cero by fans until 2016 when Mexico finally won a World Cup qualifying match against the U.S. in Columbus with a final score of 2-1.
The creation of MAPFRE Stadium made waves outside the world of soccer, too. After playing its first three seasons on campus while the team’s own arena was under construction, Crew SC welcomed the Ohio State Football Spring Game to MAPFRE Stadium in 2000-01 while Ohio Stadium underwent renovations.
MAPFRE Stadium also transitioned from fútbol to football for an NFL Training Camp scrimmage against the Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts in 2001.
With a new era of Crew SC underway in Columbus, the history and impact of MAPFRE Stadium is more important than ever. Happy anniversary to the stadium that has served Columbus for 20 years and will continue to be an important piece of Columbus sports!