COLUMBUS, Ohio — Defender Josh Williams gets the question pretty much wherever he goes. What does the future hold for the Columbus MLS franchise?
Anthony Precourt and Precourt Sports Ventures, which has owned the Major League Soccer club since 2013, has announced plans to move to Austin, Texas, following the 2018 season unless a new, privately financed stadium is built in downtown Columbus.
"It's something that I talk about every day with someone," said Williams, who spent part of 2015 and all of 2016 with Toronto FC before returning for a second stint with Columbus. "We never really bring it up inside the locker-room so it's always someone outside the locker-room. And obviously there's a lot of people who care about this team in the city, so it's a major topic.
"The way I'm looking at it is it's keeping our names in a lot of people's mouths. So we're very relevant at the moment. And that's never a bad thing, especially at this time. We'll take all the press we can get.
"We've handled it for the past month or so. So whenever anyone wants to talk about it, it's fine with me. And I tell them, to be honest, I don't know, I don't have any answers. I'm in the same boat as they are. It's not like those guys are telling us things."
Columbus, one of the 10 founding clubs in MLS, have played at Mapfre Stadium — the league's first soccer-specific stadium — since 1999 and won the MLS Cup in 2008.
Fans are hoping to keep the team in the city, spreading the word with the hashtag "SaveTheCrew'' on social media.
The Columbus players had a team meeting some time ago, agreeing that off-field issues were out of their control. All they could do was focus on their football.
The Crew have done their talking on the field. Prior to its 2-0 loss Nov. 5 to New York City FC in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinal — Columbus advanced 4-3 on aggregate — the team had been on a 12-game unbeaten run (8-0-4).
Williams, 29, will be reunited with former teammates on Tuesday night when fifth-seeded Columbus hosts top-seeded Toronto in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final.
"I loved my time there, I love that city. An unbelievable city. And I made some unbelievable friends," said Williams.
Williams, a native of Copley, Ohio, spent his first five MLS seasons in Columbus before splitting 2015 between New York City FC and Toronto.
He saw action in 22 games for the Crew this season including 19 starts after being acquired in the January re-entry draft.
"It was a pretty easy transition," he said. "I already knew what (head coach Gregg Berhalter) expected of me and how the everyday day-in day-out operations would go.
"As far as the play on the field, I feel like we've really come together as a team. A lot of unselfish guys, good locker-room guys. I feel like in this league that if you build that kind of locker-room, that kind of camaraderie on and off the field, you can do some special stuff not only in the regular season but in the post-season as well. I think we've shown that.
"It's been a great time here. It's been a lot of fun for me. I'm happy to be back in Ohio where I'm from."
And while the team tries to ignore "the outside noise," Williams says it can't help but bring them closer together.
In fact Williams believes it "set a fire under us" because the players believed their unbeaten run should have been the topic of conversation.
"It was kind of like 'Man, the rest of the league should have been talking about that' instead of the other noise."
Toronto won the regular-season series with Columbus two games to one.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press