2014 was the first year Columbus Crew SC had an official affiliate club. In the Dayton Dutch Lions, the Crew had, for the first time, a team they could easily send players on loan and bring them back throughout the season.
While this is a relatively new concept by Major League Soccer standards, it is not uncommon. Around the world, the top leagues all have clubs where players can go on loan for a period of time who are, for one reason or another, not getting playing time with their parent team.
There is a similar idea in Major League Baseball where the teams can send players to farm teams and bring them back when they are ready.
Last season, Crew SC used this frequently, both to help develop young players and get games for players returning from injuries. Homegrown players Ross Friedman and Matt Walker as well as rookies Fifi Baiden and Ben Sweat all spent at least part of their rookie year in Dayton, getting meaningful minutes in the USL PRO.
Forward Aaron Schoenfeld was with the Dutch Lions for the first half of the season, scoring 12 goals in 18 games before returning to Columbus and earning a starting spot.
In 2015, Columbus will have a new affiliate - the Austin Aztex - and things will be slightly different. This year, it won't be a freeway's drive to send players to the club and retrieve them, but rather a plane ride to and from Austin, Texas.
In the press release by Crew SC, sporting director and head coach Gregg Berhalter said the organization was impressed with the "energy, resources, and commitment of the ownership group and technical staff" of the Aztex and will help continue to develop the younger professionals, yet it will require more planning in order to send players down south.
Last year, players who were hurt in their time with Dayton were frequently back in Columbus getting treatment from the Black and Gold's training staff. The players were able to return and train with the Crew frequently, even if they weren't playing in that week's game.
With the new deal, Berhalter and his staff will have to put more consideration into the pros and cons of sending a player to the Aztex because it will be more difficult logistically and financially to have them return if needed.
On the flip side, it appears the staff believes they will have a higher success rate with Austin than they did with Dayton. Many of the players who spent time in Dayton, including Friedman, Walker, and Baiden, are no longer with the Black and Gold.
If they feel the training and level of play will be better with the Aztex, it may help develop the young players despite the inconvenience of the travel.
There are pros and cons to any move and we will have to wait and see how Tuesday's announcement turns out. Needless to say, it will be a different experience next year than it was last year.