THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Paul Leitch and his fiancee have an ongoing joke: If their house were burning down, the first thing he'd grab on his way out would be his collection of Chris Leitch jerseys.
"I've got the Red Bulls one, the MetroStars one and the Crew one," Paul said, listing his older brother's former Major League Soccer teams.
But Paul said he still doesn't have one of Chris' San Jose Earthquakes jerseys. He likes to hold out for the authentic "game-worn type" that Chris can eventually get for him.
Chris, a central Ohio native, is in town with the rest of the Earthquakes for a game tonight against the Crew. Paul will be there sans jersey but decked out in everything else San Jose. He expects to be part of a small San Jose cheering section, and more specifically, the Chris Leitch cheering section.
Being able to watch his brother play "right in the backyard" at Crew Stadium that first year spoiled Paul, he said. He could go to almost every game. The years since when Chris has played elsewhere have been frustrating.
"There's nothing more I look forward to in the year than that one time when Chris' team comes back into town and I can watch him play again," Paul said.
The brothers grew up together rooting for the Crew.
"I still root for them, just not when Chris' team is in town," Paul said.
Much of Paul's frenzy extends to Chris' other family members. Though his parents recently moved to Florida, plenty of aunts and uncles and old friends still come to the yearly homecoming games.
Players are allocated a few tickets to road games, Chris said, but there are rarely enough to go around.
"Getting tickets in Columbus is never an easy task for me," said Chris, 32. "I usually need to make deals with teammates weeks in advance just to ensure I get the necessary number of tickets."
It's a reality that Troy Perkins knows, as well. The Portland Timbers goalkeeper attended Thomas Worthington. He and teammate Eric Brunner, a Dublin Scioto and Ohio State product, will receive similar receptions when the Timbers visit July23.
Perkins said he remembers going to Crew games when the team played in Ohio Stadium.
"I used to go down to games at the Horseshoe," Perkins said. "Being around that as a kid and now as a professional that's something special."
The 29-year-old goalie has played for D.C. and Portland in MLS, as well as in Norway for parts of three seasons. When his parents get a chance to see their son's games in person against the Crew, the dates are immediately circled on the calendar.
Debbie and Steve Perkins watch Troy's other games regularly. The experience can be as much euphoric as it is excruciating.
"Your heart is always in your stomach whether it's live or on TV because of the position he plays," Debbie said.
There's always plenty of support in Columbus, both for Troy in net and for his mother's nerves in the stands. Last season, the Perkins supporters numbered close to 40.
Although it's nice for Perkins' parents to see him play on the field, it's just as nice getting to sit down and have dinner with their son, who after a trade to Portland in December lives more than 2,400 miles away.
"We get to meet up with him a couple days before the game and go eat and talk and then drop him back off at the hotel," Debbie said, which can be just as sweet as seeing him play on game day.