FROM THE SIDELINES

Smith: As U.S. Soccer crumples, professional soccer in Central Texas potentially blossoms

MLS team Columbus Crew SC to move to Austin in 2019 barring Ohio stadium deal

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The last weeks have been chaos for American soccer, especially here in Central Texas.

First, the Men's National Team failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1990 after a horrible and lazy loss at Trinidad and Tobago. Then, Columbus Crew SC owner Anthony Precourt announces he plans to move the MLS team from Columbus to Austin in 2019 if a downtown stadium isn't built in Ohio.

It's made me especially more like Ron Burgundy trapped in a glass case of emotion than a normal soccer fan. I love the game. I love the country and the pageantry of the World Cup. And some of my brightest sports memories happened at Crew Stadium in Columbus.

It all started last Tuesday.

There were literally hundreds of different outcomes across CONCACAF, the North and Central American region in international soccer, that would have put the U.S. through to at least a playoff and just one that eliminated them.

Omar Gonzalez had an extremely poor clearance the looped over Tim Howard for the first goal into his own net early in the match. Sure, it wasn't the best thing to happen, but they were still in a good position to qualify.

T&T doubled the lead with a long distance blast that Tim Howard should have saved. The 38-year-old showed his age, a far cry from his performance against Belgium in the World Cup in 2014.

At this point, they were still in the playoff and technically qualified. But results elsewhere, a Panama ghost goal and unpredictable 3-2 win by Honduras over previously undefeated Mexico spelled the end of the line for the U.S.

Retired forward Taylor Twellman said it best on his viral ESPN rant after the match, "What are we doing?!"

It's unacceptable that the U.S. failed to qualify. I don't expect to win the World Cup for a long time, maybe not even in my lifetime, but not to get out of a group of nations with populations smaller than Austin is ridiculous.

Football is king in this country. Basketball is next. Soccer is thought of as the sport we play as youths growing up and eating orange slices.

For things to change, our soccer structure needs to adopt a foreign model, something Americans might struggle to accept. MLS is a fun and growing league, but players top returning from Europe to play here just adds to the struggles of the national team and owners seemingly have their focus shifted elsewhere.

Precourt and the Crew are a perfect example.

Where Columbus play now is on the Ohio State Fairgrounds, and the team leases the stadium from the city for a low price. It's hard to get to any kind of old, it was the first soccer-specific stadium in the country and opened in 1999.

Columbus is 20th of 22 teams in terms of attendance and second to last in team value, according to Forbes Magazine.

Austin, meanwhile, is the largest metropolitan city in the country without a professional sports team. The USL is building a small, 5,000-seat stadium at Circuit of the Americas and beginning play in 2019 and Barcelona is opening an academy here. So from a business decision, this move makes sense.

But personally, this news could not give me more conflicting feelings.

I grew up going to Crew games. My cousins are from Columbus and are season ticket holders. They took me to my first game the year after the Crew won the title in 2009 and I was hooked. I saved money from a summer job to buy a jersey that was way too expensive with the championship patch on it.

I was at Crew Stadium when the U.S. beat Mexico 2-0 (Dos A Cero part 3) in 2011 and qualified for the World Cup. Clint Dempsey missed a penalty that would've given the U.S. a 3-0 lead and the supports second went crazy. It's still the best fan experience I've ever had.

But now I live here and I love soccer. This city is crying out for a team. The movement to get a team here has been passionate for a long time.

I know the Crew would do well here. But it's hard for me to think of everything they've built in Ohio and know the people and the supporters that are so passionate and make the sport great lose everything.

Admittedly, my opinion is biased because of my personal connection to Columbus. But that doesn't change what I think a relocation would do to both fanbases.

Austin deserves an MLS team, but this isn't the right one. 

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