The Columbus Crew return to the pitch inside MAPFRE Stadium on Tuesday evening as they start the Eastern Conference Finals against Toronto FC.
Toronto was the best team in Major League Soccer’s regular reason and is the odds-on favorite to win the league championship. But they’ll first have to beat a scrappy Crew team that upset Atlanta in the knockout round, then beat New York City FC in the conference semifinals.
The Eastern Conference Finals are two games, with one Tuesday and another next on November 29. MLS playoffs use aggregate scoring, so the team with the most points in the two games combined advances to MLS Cup on December 9.
Tuesday night’s game in MAPFRE Stadium comes as Crew fans and city leaders fight to keep team owner Anthony Precourt from moving the club to Austin, Texas unless a new stadium gets built here.
A new plan from the CEO of the Columbus Foundation proposes a stadium between 5th and 6th Streets, just east of the Arena District and south of Interstate 670. But it relies on an uncertain mix of public and private financing that’s already drawn skepticism from Franklin County commissioners, who would need to extend a temporary sales tax.
Precourt has said the team is economically unviable here because of low attendance and a stadium with few club seats and corporate sponsorships.
Mayor Andrew Ginther and local business leaders have fought to keep the team in Columbus, but Ginther says he left last week’s meeting with Precourt and MLS commission Don Garber “disappointed and frustrated.”
Crew and Toronto will face off at 8 p.m. on Tuesday.