In the early days of the #SaveTheCrew movement, Danny O’Rourke was one of the first Crew alums to sit down with me and have a lengthy discussion about what Columbus and the Crew meant to him.
O’Rourke is a Worthington native who won a state championship with Worthington Kilbourne at MAPFRE Stadium, an NCAA championship with Indiana at MAPFRE Stadium, and then an MLS Cup with his hometown team, which called MAPFRE Stadium home. These are not generic-looking soccer logo marketing-speak roots, they are legitimate, enduring, real-life roots. The roots from which Wil Trapp sprouted. The roots from which Danny wanted to see many more local legends grow.
When we spoke in December of 2017, O’Rourke was emotional. It wasn’t the ultra-competitive midfield pit bull type of emotion that we all saw on the field during his career. It was something deeper and more personal.
Looking back in hindsight, this quote really jumps out at me:
“I’m 50/50 to be honest. I’m 50% completely angry, pissed off, and in Danny Mode. So I think about this and I feel like I want to get super angry and start punching things. That’s how mad I get because this means so much more to me than the people who are trying to move it. And the other 50% of me is like, if he doesn’t want to be here, how can we keep the team here without him here? The fans and the city, you can’t put a price on that.”
A little over a year later, the Haslam and Edwards families chose Fifty Percent Number Two. And whatever price was put on the fans and city of Columbus, they gladly paid it.
The conversation that Danny and I had on January 24, 2019, was much different than the one we had on December 5, 2017. What once was mourning was now the celebration of a new dawn.
Here’s what he had to say…
On the Crew being 100% officially saved:
It was nice to finally be able to exhale. I was holding in so much frustration and anxiety and anger toward the whole way it was going down.
On what Crew fans need to know about Dr. Pete as he transitions into an ownership role:
Pete’s great. One story with him is that I was struggling with a comeback and there was a big game coming up. Pete wasn’t at the office, so he actually had me over to his house for some treatment to help me. He gave me his address and said, “Come on over.” That just shows the level of commitment he has for the club.
He loves Columbus and he loves the Crew, so he has his roots tied deeply and I’m sure everyone you talk to has a story about Pete helping them get back on the field or funny stories from the locker room. I’m big a fan of tradition and people who built the Crew from the ground up, and Pete’s without a doubt one of those guys, so to have Pete be in one of those main roles, I couldn’t be happier for him or the organization.
Probably like 20% of the investment money he put in came from my surgeries. As much as he put in to become an owner, I’d like to think I also put in and have some credibility there.
On being told that Duncan Oughton has already made a similar ownership claim regarding his right knee:
Yeah, but you have to figure the relative value of Duncan’s knee. I mean, it’s Duncan’s knee, so…
On Dr. Pete’s emphasis on the Crew family and wanting alumni to be feel welcomed at the club:
It’s huge. Apart from the whole “Let’s move the team to Austin” fiasco, I think that was one of the main negatives of the Precourt thing. A lot of it was there was a new owner, a new coach, a rebranding, so I get that, but it just felt very disconnected from the past.
The Crew, they aren’t an LA or a New York or some of these other organizations that were ever highly invested in by the league or the media or getting hyped up with all the big-name players. The Crew was more familial, and maybe I know more of that because I am from the area and know the household names like the Maisonneuves and McBrides and Jeff Cunnginghams of the world. That’s important. That’s a fantastic history and for guys to come in and still have that peephole into the past and to know the history of the city and the franchise. The whole thing had become so disconnected and the rebranding almost kind of washed it all away, so the fact that Pete and Caleb and Tim want to get back to all of that grassroots feel is unbelievable. I can only speak for myself, but I’m probably speaking for everyone else when I say we’d be thrilled to help in whatever capacity we can to help the organization move in the right direction.
On the Haslams being part of the ownership group:
This year it seemed like the Browns finally got over the hump and had some great draft picks. The buzz in that city, it’s exciting. If you combine that with the Crew, plus the addition of FC Cincinnati, a lot of good things are happening in Ohio. I’m excited all of this is happening with the Haslam and Edwards families.
On MAPFRE Stadium, a place central to all levels of Danny’s championship success in soccer, remaining in use as part of the training facility and sports park:
It’s very special. It’s obviously where I’ve had a lot of success. I can still think back to the first time I played there as a high school student and how much it meant because at the time it was the only soccer-specific stadium in the country. It was a huge deal, so I’m thrilled that they’re keeping it as part of the training center. Lamar Hunt built that from the ground up and had that belief in the city, so I love that. Getting a new training center is long overdue. We always talked about it, but with the direction the league is moving in, these teams are building these state-of-the-art places and investing in the development academies and the first team and doing whatever it takes to win and to treat it in a really professional manner. It’s fantastic and I’m really glad the Crew are following suit in that way.
On a new downtown stadium for the Crew:
I’m just excited for the people of Columbus in general. We want to put on a show and win games, and obviously that’s first and foremost, but the ability for a family to take their children to a game and to have other things to walk to and really enjoy this blossoming and expanding city and downtown area is exactly what it needs. When you go to where the stadium is now, it’s probably like, “Let’s just go there and then go home.” Hopefully the people of Columbus will enjoy Crew games downtown for a long time.
On what Crew fans need to know about Caleb Porter, who was an assistant coach at Indiana when O’Rourke played there:
I know there were a lot of people like this with the Crew and in the league, but whatever I attributes I may have been missing, I was someone who did whatever it takes to win. Caleb is who I learned that from. I kind of had it inside of me when I went to Indiana, but Caleb is the one who brought it out and kind of molded it and shaped it. A lot of my development as a player and personality-wise is pretty much directly attributed to him. For Crew fans, I’d say it’s going to be different because it’s not going to be exactly the same style they’d been accustomed to with Gregg, but he’ll find a way to win. If it’s not right away, rest assured he’s not going to sleep until it’s a good product and a team that can compete for a title.
On new team president Tim Bezbatchenko, a fellow Central Ohio native:
He was a year or two older than me. I played against him. He went to DeSales, which was the same high school as a lot of my teammates. DeSales was always really good and Bez was a really good player, so you knew him. To see him move up through the ranks with the league office and then Toronto, and now to finally come back home… if he can do what he did in Toronto, and I’m sure there were lots of moving parts and other people, but he did such a fantastic job up there making that happen, so hopefully he can bring that same success to the Crew.
On the #SaveTheCrew movement accomplishing their goal of keeping the club in its rightful home:
They deserve it. The hashtag #SaveTheCrew, and making bumper stickers, and the social media, and the going to rallies, and supporting each other in the dark times, I’d like to think that mattered. Even if the team would have gone to Austin, I think a lot of people around the country who supported the movement or were monitoring it saw the passion of Columbus. The passion was always there. I think Sigi did a good job when he brought the supporter groups together in the corner in 2008.
I think they deserve it. It makes me so happy that they came together and made this happen. I’m thrilled because I’m not a player anymore, so I’m a fan. I’m one of them. Hopefully I’ll be able to come to the stadium and watch a game with them. Maybe pull a Frankie Hejduk out of the hat and have an adult beverage with them at the tailgate. We’ll see!
A MASSIVE SEASON is now available as an ebook.