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Michael Bradley has strong views on Crew’s relocation

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Michael Bradley didn’t hold back when asked about the Columbus Crew potentially being relocated to Austin, Texas, by their owner Anthony Precourt.

[ MORE: TFC, Crew draw ]

The captain of Toronto FC and the U.S. men’s national team had his every touch booed during TFC’s 0-0 Conference Final first leg draw at Columbus’ Mapfre Stadium on Tuesday and was asked afterwards about the uproar regarding the Crew’s possible relocation to a city over 1,200 miles away.

Bradley, 30, did not sit on the fence.

“Look, on one hand you feel for the small group of loyal supporters that they have who have been here since the beginning, who continue to support the team and come out week after week. On the other hand, you can’t deny the fact that things here have really fallen behind in terms of the atmosphere in the stadium, the quality of the stadium, what it’s like to play here,” Bradley said.

“I don’t know who’s at fault for that… there’s a lot going on, and I get that – and like I said, as an outsider I don’t know what that falls on. But again, the reality is just that as the league has continued to grow and grow – and this is not the only one, but this is one of a few markets that has not kept pace.”

Does Bradley have a point?

Looking at MLS in terms of average attendance over the past seven years since MLS expansion became rampant, Columbus’ highest average attendance was 17,125 in 2016. That was still over 4,000 below the league average, even if you believe attendance stats in MLS are vastly miscalculated in many markets with “tickets sold” included in many attendance figures.

For the 2017 regular season only Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas are drawing smaller crowds, on average, than Columbus’ average of 15,439, and there’s only a few hundred difference between those three clubs.

When you look at the somewhat recent arrivals of Seattle, Portland, Montreal, Vancouver, New York City FC, Orlando City and now Atlanta and Minnesota United into the league, you just can’t compare their strong attendance numbers with Columbus and other MLS ever-present franchises such as Colorado and Dallas.

Bradley, on one level, is spot on. There is a distinct, and obvious, difference from the clubs set up in MLS in 1996 who are still in MLS today and the stadium deals those who entered in MLS 2.0 and 3.0.

Of course, his comments will not sit well with Columbus’ fans who are fighting desperately with the #SaveTheCrew movement to keep their club in Ohio with Precourt, MLS and the City of Columbus no closer to an agreement about plans for a new stadium for the Crew in downtown Columbus.

Above all, this is about more than attendances. Plenty of MLS markets have struggled in the past, or are struggling right now, to attract new fans and many Columbus supporters believe having a new owner who has their heart set on keeping the team in the city and improving the team and situation is the key. It’s hard to blame them for wanting that and not rolling over just because their current owner wants to try something different.

This is a tricky situation to see a “winner” from, with Precourt the only one set to benefit if he successfully relocates the Crew to Austin and they become profitable and big crowds turn up.

The situation is an absolute mess and with reports suggesting only two gates were open for Columbus’ playoff game against Toronto on Tuesday to slow down fans entering the stadium, it is become an embarrassing situation for MLS, especially as it appears they had the agreement in place with Precourt for a potential relocation to Austin when he purchased the Crew in 2013.

Once again, what a mess.

MLS Conference Final preview: Rematch spoilers?

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There’s an MLS Cup Final rematch on the cards if you play the favorites for this week’s conference finals.

Seattle beat Toronto in last season’s Cup final via penalty kicks, and Brian Schmetzer could again match wits with Greg Vanney come 4 p.m. ET on Dec. 9 in Ontario.

[ MORE: Pulis sacked | What’s next for WBA? ]

The finals begin Tuesday with a doubleheader of sorts, scheduled 90 minutes apart in Columbus and Houston.

Toronto FC vs. Columbus Crew
First leg — 8 p.m. ET Tuesday in Ohio
Second leg — 7:30 p.m. ET Nov. 29 in Ontario

The Trillium Cup rivals meet with a lot more on the line, and the subplots are many. Toronto FC is aiming to win its first MLS Cup title after a record-breaking season lifting the Supporters’ Shield. The Crew is being held hostage by its owner who’s done his level best to engineer a move to Austin come 2019, and the players are giving their fans on-field thrills to go with #SaveTheCrew protests.

There’s a terrific chance for Columbus to pull ahead in leg one as it did against New York City FC, as the Reds will be without suspended stars Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore.

The Crew are led by the wizardry of Justin Meram (Iraq) and the finishing of Norwegian striker Ola Kamara. Then there’s rejuvenated and/or ageless playmaker Federico Higuain, and young USMNT backstop Zack Steffen.

Managers Greg Vanney and Gregg Berhalter are both capable of sublime tactics, and how Tuesday looks may go beyond the missing stars if Vanney is able to trump his Columbus counterpart.

Seattle Sounders vs. Houston Dynamo
First leg — 9:30 p.m. ET Tuesday in Texas
Second leg — 10:30 p.m. ET Nov. 29 in Washington

Clint Dempsey’s defiant comeback tour rolls on. One year after he was relegated to street clothes champagne celebrator in Canada, Dempsey is rollicking through MLS with his heart surgery a poignant but distant memory.

Dempsey scored twice in the conference semifinal defeat of Vancouver, the lone two goals, and has been no worse for the wear despite an injury to key attack partner Jordan Morris. On the season, he’s nabbed 14 goals and 4 assists.

“Deuce” joins Nicolas Lodeiro and Cristian Roldan as key pieces in trying to deconstruct Wilmer Cabrera’s Dynamo, who are trying to add a second title to the city’s trophy haul following a difficult summer for Houston.

Houston has its band together for this critical time of year, with no Gold Cup or CONCACAF World Cup qualifying to deprive them of Alberth Elis or Erick Torres. Can it knock off the No. 2 seed after handing top-seeded Portland its demise?

Columbus officials release statement after MLS, Precourt meeting

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Columbus mayor Andrew Ginther and Alex Fischer, the CEO of the Columbus Partnership, met with MLS commissioner Don Garber and Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt on Wednesday in a bid to keep the Crew in Ohio.

It did not go well.

[ MORE: Rochester Rhinos in jeopardy ]

Ginther and Fischer released a statement on the meeting, claiming that they offered every option to get Precourt and Garber to take relocation to Austin, Texas, off the table only to be shot down by the MLS hierarchy.

“We met with Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber and Columbus Crew SC owner Anthony Precourt in New York today. It is clear the MLS and ownership did not come to the meeting willing to commit to staying in Columbus. We know this is heartbreaking for the dedicated fans in Columbus and across the country who have shown unwavering support for the Columbus Crew SC.

We are disappointed and frustrated. We were united in putting all options on the table, with the expectation in return that the MLS and ownership would cease pursuing moving the team to Austin. Great American cities do not get into bidding wars over sports teams to benefit private owners. Garber and Precourt were not willing to do that today.

Once the league and owner are committed to Columbus, we stand ready, willing and able to support the team’s success. On November 21, standing alongside the best soccer fans in the country at MAPFRE stadium, we will be cheering Black and Gold onto victory. Glory to Columbus.”

Relocation stories are never fun, but this one is infuriating. From the timing of the announcement — before a big playoff run — to the words of Precourt, it’s been one big stinger after another.

Sadly, stories like these are unavoidable when a league size is limited and closed. Precourt bought the original MLS team with the hopes of moving it to Austin. The sale was approved with that language in it. Essentially, the Crew barely had hope of overcoming those desires.

Precourt claims that Columbus didn’t present a viable plan to keep the team in Ohio, from MLSSoccer.com:

Precourt Sports Ventures and Major League Soccer met this afternoon in New York City with Mayor Ginther and Alex Fischer, at the request of the city, in anticipation of being presented an actionable plan and a legitimate offer that would advance efforts to improve Crew SC’s long-term ability to operate and compete in Columbus.  Both PSV and the league entered the meeting with open minds, no demands and a complete willingness to listen and entertain concrete ideas or a meaningful proposal from the city’s representatives at the meeting.

We were extremely disappointed that no concrete offer or proposal was presented and then told by the City of Columbus that it would not communicate with us past today.

Precourt Sports Ventures made a clear commitment to Columbus four years ago by purchasing 100 percent of Columbus Crew SC.  In the meantime, despite successful efforts to reinvent the brand and improve the Club, market challenges for Crew SC in Columbus continue to mount.

Despite the city’s refusal to make a real offer and its decision to cease conversations, we remain open to a productive dialogue if the City of Columbus reconsiders.  Columbus Crew SC remains focused on our quest to win MLS Cup.

In terms of business, Precourt has every right to move the team, and MLS has every right to let him. And it seems — strictly inference here — MLS views the outcome of giving Cincinnati a team after Columbus leaves as somehow a fine trade-off for Ohio.

If MLS started today, Columbus probably wouldn’t get one of 28 markets. That’s not the point. They have a team, an original team, and those are generally hallowed in major and important American sports leagues.

But as someone who grew up in Buffalo with constant threats and hostage moves regarding the Sabres and Bills to pony up or risk losing the team, I hope Columbus finds the solution our city did: Owners who were willing to make less than the maximum to cater to a community in love with its teams.

Imagine a United States without the home of Dos a Cero boasting a top tier side. Again, this remains a league barely over 20 years old, and Garber and Co. are very much navigating the equivalent of the Wild West (along with teams in other leagues). Still, concern for what’s been built in Ohio would be nice, at the very least.

Brewery has interest in buying Crew, unveils #SaveTheCrew beer

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Scottish-born brewery BrewDog operates American efforts in Columbus, Ohio, and has no interest in seeing its beloved soccer club leave town.

So the brewery is rolling out a new beer, Crew Brew, with all proceeds going to efforts aimed at saving the Crew, while also admitting a willingness to buy into the club if it means stopping Anthony Precourt from moving to Austin.

[ MORE: All #SaveTheCrew news ]

Deft marketing move? Of course — and BrewDog is quite good at marketing — but there’s more than a whiff of authenticity in the brewery’s desires.

From the BrewDog release:

At BrewDog, we are world leading pioneers and experts in crowd-funding and community ownership. Indeed our own business is part owned by a community of over 60,000 craft beer lovers and we have raised over $60m through crowdfunding over the last few years. We would love to facilitate and be involved in a potential purchase of the Columbus Crew from it’s current ownership structure and then immediately look to sell at least half of it back to the fans through crowdfunding.

Craft beer is good, if you’re into drinking beer, and we walk in lockstep with the goal of keeping the Crew in Columbus.

Again, this is great marketing considering Columbus is in a combination derby/Conference Final and it’ll sell a ton of golden ale, but it can help further the clarion call to bring businesses together to invest in keeping the Crew in Columbus.

Austin passes resolution to pursue stadium sites for MLS

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Austin has unanimously passed a resolution to explore stadium sites in the hopes of drawing a Major League Soccer franchise to the capital of Texas.

The resolution was spurred by Anthony Precourt’s interest in relocation the Columbus Crew to Austin but, interestingly, now has language that allows for Austin to pursue other teams.

The team would have to construct and operate the facility.

[ MORE: New Zealand can spring upset ]

Precourt is trying to wriggle the Crew from Columbus in a move which has spawned much vitriol and a #SaveTheCrew movement from all sides of the soccer community.

Though they’ve maintained they are not 100 percent on leaving Columbus, Precourt Sports Ventures released a statement expressing its love for Austin and the passed resolution.

Additionally, this article should not be misinterpreted as approval for ripping an original MLS team from its home.

Finally, this: