Across the globe in our sport, most club nicknames are age-old and you don't often get to see one come to life.
If you've followed MLS NEXT Pro in any capacity in the inaugural season, you've probably noticed that Columbus Crew 2 has picked up a unique nickname, The Capybaras. Before you search too far, the answer is no: there is no native connection between the world's largest rodent species and the Ohio capital.
It is also not a tradition carried down from the Columbus Crew's first team. The name, born in jest, came from a pure place of fun and helped give the Crew 2 players and staff more than they ever expected when they envisioned what their support would look like in the inaugural season.
"As a team, I don't think we really had any expectations to have any following or have any fans," team captain Marco Micaletto said. "But when they came, it was just an incredible extra boost. It was that incredible surprise that no one expected, but now it's here, and it's here in great force."
If you're here, you're probably wondering how Crew 2's nickname came to be, and here is everything you need to know:
Where exactly did the name come from?
Carlos Maciel, known by Columbus supporters as President Bird, is the one responsible for speaking it into existence.
“I’m not going to embellish it, it started as a joke,” he told MLSNEXTPro.com.
When Maciel learned he’d have a new team to support with the launch of MLS NEXT Pro in 2022, he went to Discordecke, the fan-run Columbus Crew Discord community, to discuss the announcement and ended up talking about references for the team.
Maciel was born in Brazil, spent years in Columbus, and now lives in Colorado. Discord is one of the ways he stays close to the Crew supporter community, and that’s where the Columbus faithful started a brainstorm to give Crew 2 a signature nickname.
As a suggestion, the name was an instant hit. It turns out there is a busy intersection of Columbus soccer fans and capybara meme enthusiasts.
“For just completely random reasons, there were a lot of other capybara memes going around with that After the Party song that I didn't know about, and all these people started posting and sharing it and I was like ‘Oh, that's actually pretty great’
“And so that got involved into the mythology of it, and it was kind of a perfect storm of having the name work,”
Why does it work?
For starters, it’s an accurate representation of Crew 2’s modus operandi if you ask the man in charge.
“The capybara is kind of cute. It doesn't scare me, even though it looks like a giant rat, but it's not scary per se,” head coach Laurent Courtois said. “So it was ideally matching the second team arriving, like the little brother. So this little animal that’s more cute than ferocious, for the second team, the little brother of the first team, it's kind of matched perfectly,”
From Courtois’ chair, it has been a gift from the fans. The pressures of leading a first-year team in a first-year league probably should have moments of levity, and the moniker has helped transverse his message to his squad.
“You want to find a way to get the guys committed and find the balance between, it's just soccer, but soccer is just our whole life too,” said the 2022 MLS NEXT Pro Coach of the Year. “So the capybara thing helped us a lot to really not take ourselves too seriously, but at the same time to identify ourselves through a mascot … It became it became really strong.”
How did it stick?
Strap in. There are several reasons, beyond the memes, why it has evolved from a joke to a pillar of the team’s identity.
At first, the Crew 2 players and staff were a little confused but happy to be so.
“We first started hearing about it after the first couple of home games on Twitter,” said Crew 2 forward Noah Fuson. “You'd see capybaras edited with Crew hats, or on top of a crew player, the face of a capybara,
“And we had no idea what a capybara even was, but they were just calling us capybaras, and we embraced it,”
Little did Fuson and his teammates know early on that it would only grow stronger week by week. The more they acknowledged it, the more they were in for a response.
“I would say after May is when we really hit our peak,” said Gerardo Martinez-Cortez, another one of Crew 2’s most ardent supporters who gets credit for curating Columbus’ Capybara culture.
Martinez-Cortez, known as “Cor” or the “Capy Capo”, has helped with developing the memes, merch, tifos, chants, and vernacular that brought the identity to life. He also invested hours into Twitter discussions explaining the connection to newcomers looking to get in on the fun.
“So then one day, Supporter Supply Company says they’re making merch, then the next day, someone says they’ve made stickers and asked who wants them, then we made stickers and started putting them everywhere,”
Things hit, perhaps, an all-time high in July when Crew 2 paid a visit to the Columbus Zoo. Micaletto and Fuson got up close and personal with the real-life animals for the first time in their lives.
Neither Fuson nor Micaletto considers themselves superstitious enough to credit the visit as the key to Crew 2’s first-place finish in the inaugural season of MLS NEXT Pro, that work was firmly done on the field and training ground. Still, future visits were most definitely not ruled out.
“I'm glad that we were able to make it happen for ourselves, and I know that the fans loved seeing us with the capybaras,” Micaletto said. “They provide so much laughter and so much amusement for us, that if we're able to every now and then the same thing for them, I’m all for it.
The Crew 2 community has left a permanent mark on the team they love.
Naturally, things are scaled down a bit in terms of the glitz and glamor when compared to a first-team operation. Crew 2 fans knew that, and nickname or not, wanted to make sure the players they cheer for were welcome and would have people watching. In what started as a joke that wasn’t aimed to have a particular outcome, it brought the Crew 2 players and fans together in a way nobody expected.
“I wanted to feel that community spirit, and when I saw the ticket prices, I thought this could really be something,” Martinez-Cortez said while pointing out Crew 2 is a great way for local fans to get into the sport. “And as someone who cares about my community, I want everyone to experience soccer,”
The love has indeed gone both ways.
“I think what made this work out was there seemed to be an earnest response from the team,” Maciel said. “They’ve been so good to the fans who have made it to the stadium, they always go talk to the people and take pictures … The gratitude we as fans have on the other side of the pitch for them being so kind, so responsive, taking this in stride and making it their own as well, is a big part of why this has worked,”
We’ll end with another remark from Micaletto, who offers a snapshot of just how rooted this nickname is in the team’s day-to-day operations.
“We are the Capybaras now is now, whether we like it or not, and we all like it. That's who we are. When people say the Capybaras, they're talking about us,
“It's so part of our locker room, we have a sign in there in the locker room that says Capybara Boulevard. Our training room is actually called the Capybara Coffee Shop. It's evidence that's who we are. And we've embraced it and we want to be that to the fullest. So, yeah, maybe before we would speak about it, and now it's not even something that you speak about. It's general knowledge.”