Former Crew goalkeeper Matt Lampson, currently of the LA Galaxy, was a homegrown player and an Ohio State Buckeye, so his Central Ohio roots run deep. After surviving Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a teenager, Lampson has dedicated his career to making a difference for others in their fight against blood cancers via his Lampstrong Foundation. He was named the MLS Humanitarian of the Year in both 2016 and 2018.
Lampson is not only intelligent, charitable, and funny, but he can also be a challenging and bluntly honest conversationalist. I’ve always loved every second of it. All of this shines through in our chat last weekend about the saving of the Crew.
For example, when I described him as a fan favorite, this happened:
Matt: “Wait, who’s saying that I was a fan favorite?”
Me: “Me. People liked you.”
Matt: “Oh. People.”
Me: “They did.”
Matt: “Sorry, I got lost when you said fan favorite. What were we even talking about?”
Anyway, here’s what Lampson had to say during our chat about the Crew being saved…
On observing the relocation ordeal:
I’m pretty cynical, believe it or not, so when it was announced that they would they would take the team to Austin, I was pretty sure it would happen because, what fanbases don’t realize is that the owners invest a shitload of money, so if the owner wants a team somewhere, he will get a team somewhere. That’s the bottom line.
People want to hate on Don Garber, but he wants this league to succeed. The more it succeeds, the more money he makes. The more teams you have, the more money the league makes, the more money that owners put into the league, the better the league is going to be. So if an owner says he wants a team somewhere and he’ll shell out money for it, he’s going to want it to happen. Obviously, I didn’t know until it came out that it was Austin, but attendance in Columbus was struggling. That’s the bottom line. You can point to other teams that don’t fill the stadium, but the reality is that owner did not want the team there anymore, so he was going to have it moved.
In my perspective, I thought that’s what’s going to happen. If the owner wants a team somewhere, it’s going to happen whether the fans want it to happen or not. And, inevitably, it still happened. He’s getting a team in Austin because he wanted a team in Austin and that’s where the money is going. It just so happens that new ownership saved the Crew. In all honesty, if the Haslams hadn’t shown up, this wouldn’t have happened. A lot of people, when it first came out, especially politicians, were getting on the bandwagon because it makes them look good. It’s one thing if they were really behind it, and I know there were people who were truly behind it, but it’s really easy to say “We really need to save the Crew” because it looks good as a person who is in politics in Central Ohio.
I was pretty much sold that the team was going somewhere, but I didn’t know the Haslams would come in. I think they recognized the market, and I know they were interested in a training facility for the Browns. [NOTE: There had been discussions about a joint Crew-Browns facility when the Hunts still owned the team, but the Browns now say they have no plans to move training camp from Berea.] It was a business decision. As much as people want to be like, “They have great hearts and they didn’t want the team taken from the city”…it’s a business decision. That’s what most people will never be able to get through their head. At the press conference, Dee Haslam was amazing and wonderful, but it’s still a business decision. They’re not going to do this if they’re not going to make money, if they’re not going to increase revenue, or if it’s not going to help them in their bottom line. Then it’s not going to happen. They’re not going to do it just out of the kindness of their heart. People don’t want to realize, but that’s the reality. Major League Soccer is a business.
But I think it’s wonderful that they’re staying. Not only that, but they are getting a new stadium, which is sick. I think it’s going to be awesome. It speaks to the type of fanbase that exists in Columbus that regardless of people like me telling them it’s not going to happen as many times as everyone did, they kept doing it until they brought enough attention to it that people like the Haslams came in and saved the day. I think that’s huge. That sets a precedent to fanbases around the league. You know that corner is always full. It’s a testament to the type of people in Columbus and the prospective fanbase in Columbus and how successful the team will be now having saved the Crew, with all of the publicity and buzz in Columbus about it, they will probably be even more successful in terms of fanbase and turnout and growth and things like that.
On the thought of potentially losing the team he grew up rooting for:
It was sad to see…the saddest part was that he (Anthony Precourt) told us that he wasn’t going to move the team. That could have been the truth. “I’m not going to move the team dot dot dot parentheses right now.” You know? It’s sad that he would say that and then do what he did. It was sad in terms of the history of the league. We saw it with San Jose. This type of thing isn’t unprecedented. In terms of the history of the league and the growth of the league, it would have been really sad to see that happen to one of the original teams.
A lot of people don’t realize that the league would have folded if Lamar Hunt didn’t build that stadium in Columbus. The league would have just imploded like every other North American soccer league. Did I just say NASL? Just like every other American soccer league. Wait, was there one of those too? ASL? Shit. Just like any other soccer ball kicking organization, it would have folded, but Lamar Hunt saved MLS. So to see the stadium and the team that literally kept the league afloat and helped make it what it is today, to have that literally disappear would have been incredibly sad as an unbiased player and fan of soccer in the United States. There’s a lot of history and you wouldn’t want to lose that and talk about it in the same terms as the Tampa Bay Mutiny. You wouldn’t want to talk about the Columbus Crew as that old team. You want them to still be around.
On the plans to incorporate MAPFRE Stadium into the new training facility and sports park:
I think that’s awesome. That stadium means everything to the league. I don’t think people understand how much that stadium means. So not only to keep using it for the city, but also to honor it instead of tearing it down, it’s pretty awesome, because it would be easier to just tear it down and put in a Hometown Buffet or whatever.
On Dr. Pete being part of the ownership group:
I love Dr. Pete. Dr. Pete is a hell of an individual. He’s very devoted and passionate about what he does. That could be anything. If you ever played the guy in checkers, he’s going to beat your ass in checkers because he really cares about it. Things that he cares about, and things that he’s passionate about, he puts everything into it.
I obviously experienced it in his medical background. He genuinely cares about every single person that comes into his office. It’s obvious from what he’s done for all of the Crew players, myself included. He wants what’s best for the player. What’s funny is that it’s not just about in terms of playing, but in terms of life too. He’s 100% honest with you about how something will affect not only your career, but also your life. I think that should be telling to the fanbase that you will get honesty from him and nothing but 100% devotion and passion from him. He wants to be the best. He wants to be the best surgeon, he wants to be the best owner, he wants to be the best everything.
If he’s going to part-own this team and be an integral part of it and want the team to succeed, then he’s going to do whatever he can to make it succeed. I think that will become apparent as the years progress. I don’t know how much he can do with the turmoil that’s happened now, but that’s the type of character that he is. If he’s doing something, he wants to be the best at it, and I don’t think that owning a team will be any different.
On what he would say to Crew fans after their successful #SaveTheCrew movement:
The biggest thing that I will say is that you did the job, now finish the job. You saved the Crew. You’ve done everything you can. Now don’t prove everyone who said this isn’t going to work right. What I mean by that is that when the new season starts, you fill the stadium. You fill it every game, whether it’s a winning team or a losing team, whether it’s a Wednesday night game, where it’s an Open Cup game, you prove why you saved the Crew. The worst thing you can do is say, “Look at all this great stuff we did! You can’t take this team away!” and then 10,000 people show up every game. That’s what I have to say. Show up and support the team, because if you don’t you’re proving all the haters right. I don’t know about them (Crew fans), but I would hate proving people right.
Unless it was a good thing. Like a fan favorite. Like proving that people actually think I was a fan favorite.
On my describing our chat as “strident” as compared to other conversations:
I like that. I’m not going to sugarcoat this. Most people are probably like, “Oh, it’s wonderful that the Crew have been saved. Oh this is great. We’re going to have rainbows at every game and unicorns running through the field throwing Twinkies out to all the fans!” That’s not what I’m going to say. I’m going to say, “Show up!”
[NOTE: In furtherance of Lampson’s desire to see a packed MAPFRE Stadium doing his hometown proud, I suppose this is where I should link to the place on the Crew’s website where you can purchase season tickets.]
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