One of the many interesting things about the Columbus Crew is that the club has spawned a substantial number of national soccer commentators. That definitely came in handy during the #SaveTheCrew saga. Brian Dunseth was an immediate Columbus advocate. So was Brian McBride. So was Kyle Martino. And so was Alejandro Moreno, who frequently used his pulpit on ESPN to push back against the relocation narratives and to question why Columbus was not being given a fair shake.
During the Crew’s run-up to the 2008 MLS Cup title, Ale’s mantra to the team was “Do what you do!” When the Crew needed him most, he did what he did, whether that was scoring the opening goal in MLS Cup 2008 or persistently using his voice and platform to help save the Crew.
As a pertinent aside before we get into the meat of our conversation, many years ago, Alejandro and I had a lengthy email correspondence about baseball. It was a fun and fascinating (to us at least, haha) conversation about our love of the game while growing up in Ohio for me and Venezuela for him. The intent was to put it all together for a story on the Crew site, and then possibly the Union site after the Crew lost him in the expansion draft. It never ultimately happened, but I will surely put that stuff together as part of a book project someday. Anyway, one of the things we talked about was Venezuelan shortstops. Growing up, Alejandro was a big fan of Ozzie Guillen, which is why he is a White Sox fan to this day. And I, of course, am a huge fan of Omar Vizquel, who spent 11 years playing some mind-blowing shortstop for my beloved Cleveland Indians. Omar is now eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Should he eventually make it on the basis of being one of the greatest defensive shortstops of all-time, he would join Luis Aparacio as the only other Venezuelan in the Hall of Fame. (Although Miguel Cabrera is a lock to be enshrined five years after his retirement.)
Anyway, I am presenting this Alejandro piece in conversational format because there was some fun back and forth at the beginning of our talk. Speaking with Alejandro is always an enjoyable and interesting experience. I, and the city of Columbus, are fortunate to have him as a friend.
Here’s what he had to say…
(Quick hellos and pleasantries, etc.)
I’m pushing hard for my guy Omar Vizquel to get into the Hall of Fame. I was part of saving the Crew, and now I’m moving on to my next big announcement.
You have a knack for choosing causes that are dear to my heart.
That’s what I do. I’m working the crowd for you, Steve. That’s what I do.
Based on your track record, I’m assuming Omar will be in the Hall of Fame about this time next year.
That’s what I’m hoping. I’m undefeated so far. What else do you want with me? I brought you a title, helped save the Crew, and now I’m going to get Omar Vizquel in the Hall of Fame. What else do you want?
I love that you’re just volunteering to do stuff for me now.
I’m just putting my best foot forward and offering my services and doing what I can to help my community.
Do what you do.
I do what I do.
Anyway, now that the Crew are 100% officially saved, what are your thoughts tonight?
I think there a lot of feelings. There is a sense of relief. The fans in Columbus probably feel that. When you go to sleep tonight, if you’re a fan of the Columbus Crew, I think that sense of what seemed to be gone is no longer gone. It’s still part of the community and now it’s the responsibility of those fans and the new fans who came on board to make sure that nothing like this ever comes close to happening again. In addition to that sense of relief, there is a sense of pride in that grassroots movement and how it all came together and grew over time and brought up a situation that was frankly unacceptable and unbearable.
When I first heard about the Columbus Crew and the potential move to Austin, I have been very clear in my position on what’s right and what I think would be the right outcome for the Columbus Crew. Columbus is a founding member of the league, and what does it say about MLS if one of our founding members can go elsewhere? How can you get excited about new markets when you can’t even take care of your original markets? I had my passion for the Columbus Crew on a personal level, and I felt I had a place and a platform to use my voice and it was important. When people were saying people weren’t coming to the games and talking about the so-called business metrics, and that it all pointed toward that the team needed to move and it’s a business and you have the right if you own the team to make a business decision, but I felt this has to be more than business metrics. This has to be more than dollars and cents. There has to be a consideration of what the Columbus Crew means to MLS and what the Crew means to the people in Columbus.
To make the decision—and for me it was the easiest and most straightforward decision it could possibly be—to take a stand from the very first moment and say that this is wrong, this is unacceptable, this cannot be a part of the legacy of Major League Soccer, and this should not be the direction Major League Soccer is moving into, and now to see that the Crew have been saved and that the Crew will remain where it belongs in its rightful place in MLS and the city of Columbus, I’m excited, I’m relieved, I feel proud, and I just think that in the end, this was the only acceptable outcome.
You talked about taking a stand and using your platform, and I know Crew fans are eternally grateful that you did so, especially since it may have been a professional risk. I’m sure it wasn’t easy to go after the league like that on a professional level, so I know the fans appreciated it.
I was having a conversation with my son, who is now 14 years old.
That makes me feel old.
You and me both. But I was taking him to practice tonight, and I was talking to him about the situation with the Columbus Crew. He was familiar that I had taken the position of saying what I felt was right and what I believed in my heart. I told him, and I think this addresses the point that you were making, “In life, there will be times when you have to take positions that may be uncomfortable, that may be difficult, that may put some pressure on you, that may perhaps jeopardize your position, which may or may not be professional, but that you have to be true to your character. You have to be able to wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and like what you see.”
And that’s what I did. You’re right, it was a tough situation for me. I was in a place where I was speaking up about what I thought was wrong, and certainly there’s some pressure and discomfort that comes with that because there are a lot of people that had interests in a potential move of the Columbus Crew to Austin. Those people are in positions of power, and therefore I might have been exposing myself to a backlash that I didn’t need, but to be quite honest, it didn’t matter. Like I told my son today, “Sometimes it got difficult and complicated for me, but it was the right decision. It was what I believed in my heart.”
I think that Columbus and the Columbus Crew fans deserved somebody to say, “Wait a minute. Why are we already talking about Austin? Why are we not talking about Columbus? Why are we talking about the potential market and not the market that we already have in place? Why does this sound like it’s an already-made decision when the solution should be to think of a way to keep the Crew in Columbus?”
Somebody needed to say that. I know some people found it easier to not take a position, or to go back and forth and change their tune as the process went on, but you know me, Steve. If nothing else, I’m straightforward. I speak from the heart. I speak with emotion. I don’t speak that much, but when I do, it’s because I feel that it is a cause worth getting behind. There was no doubt that this cause was something where I wanted to leave no doubt about where I stood.
I felt the same way. My stakes weren’t nearly as high as yours, but when the potential move was first announced, I knew I couldn’t be silent. I knew I had to speak at the rally and write stories and push back against this by doing my thing. Even if the Crew ultimately left, I needed to sleep at night knowing that I did whatever I could.
That’s the reason that I participated in the documentary. That’s why I came to Columbus for the opening weekend. That’s why whenever I had an opportunity to address it, I addressed it. It would have been too easy to do what others did and ride the wave in whatever direction the wave was going. I certainly was not willing to do that, whether that was my relationship with the Crew, a moment of clarity on my part, or just a moment of knowing no, no, no this is just wrong. Whatever it might have been, I just knew when I looked in the mirror, I had to like what I saw.
How about maybe some thoughts on Dr. Edwards, who you would have known from your playing days, who is moving from being the team doctor to part of the ownership group. What should Crew fans know about Dr. Edwards now that he’ll be leading the charge here in Columbus?
First of all, thankfully I didn’t have many run-ins with Dr. Edwards when I was with the Columbus Crew. It’s strange because you knew who Dr. Pete was, but you wanted to stay away from Dr. Pete because if you were spending time with Dr. Pete, it meant that you were in some sort of trouble. I don’t know how the other guys felt about it, but the less I saw or spoke to Dr. Pete, the better. You just don’t want to even bring it into the circle of possibility that you may have to go see Dr. Edwards.
We were cordial and we had a good relationship when I was with him, but now that I have retired, that relationship has evolved that when I see him, now I feel like I can have a conversation without feeling like I am going to miss out on a game because I’m even talking to you.
The last conversation I’ve had with him was in November when I did the home playoff game in Columbus against New York, and this was just after the reports that he and the Haslams had put this group together, but it was kind of like an announcement was made, but it was that things were kind of happening, but I was positively uplifted and so was he. He said there were certain things that needed to happen and they were trying as hard as they can, but then he said, and I think this speaks volumes about the person that he is and the group that he has put together, he started thanking me for what I had done. I was like, “Wow. I spoke when I could speak, I’ve done what I could, and I’ve said and done my part, but you’re bringing the money. You’re bringing the power. You’re bringing what I don’t have and certainly couldn’t put together.”
The appreciation that I have for him is that he could have easily let things be and he would have been fine. But there’s a connection between Dr. Edwards and the Crew that goes for years and years and years. Coaches have changed. Players have changed. Front office people have come and gone. Even ownerships have come and gone. But Dr. Edwards has been there. That’s something that perhaps people don’t understand. He’s a guy that as a player maybe you don’t want to see, but he’s been that guy for over 20 years now. He has a real connection with club. If people have paid a little bit of attention, there has been one constant on that bench for the Columbus Crew, and it wasn’t the coach, and it wasn’t the players, and it wasn’t the team administrator or the trainers…those have come and gone, but Dr. Edwards has been at the end of that bench for years. Now people should pay attention because he’s more than just the team doctor.
I think—and this is just me putting two and two together—I think in his mind, he thought, “I need to do what I can. I am in a position where I can do something about this.” And he did. He did what he did! He took ownership of a moment, of an opportunity, of a calling. When this is part of your life and has been part of your life for a long time and you have been a constant for this club for years, and you have the opportunity now to continue to be that constant in a more powerful position, we should all be very thankful to him and the Haslam family and appreciative for what they have done. They could have given a simple sigh and let things be, but he made sure that that connection—the personal and emotional connection that he has with the club—was able to materialize into something that we can all see and we can all grasp.