The announcement that Crew SC are going to partner with the Austin Aztex is another reminder of Gregg Berhalter's total and exacting control over the soccer operations. Berhalter was hired a year ago based on the vision he presented to Anthony Precourt, and it's clear that he is slowly rolling that out.
Berhalter came in after the disappointing end of the Warzycha/Bliss era with a mandate to tear down the club. Rather than blowing it up, he showed restraint. There was certain amount of roster turnover, but some underperforming players retained with some new pieces brought in. Roster turnover was a gradual process as Berhalter brought in a few key pieces.
Off the field, Berhalter also made additions. Asher Mendelsohn joined shortly after Berhalter was hired, as was his coaching staff. More interesting is a couple of new hires. Nico Estévez was hired in October as the Crew's Director of Methodology. Despite his youth, Estevez has a long history in coaching in his native Spain. He's been the head coach at Huracán and Valencia's B team Mestalla. He even coached Valencia for two games as a caretaker.
That's a pretty high profile signing as Estévez has extensive coaching experience in Spain, but was convinced to come to MLS by the vision of where the club is going. Crew SC and Estévez haven't talked extensively about his role with the team, but he'll likely be tasked with examining the Crew Academy as part of bringing Berhalter's vision to all parts of the club.
Berhalter also hired a familiar face for the new position of High Performance Director in September, with Steve Tashjian returning to the club after a stint in England with Everton. Much like Estévez, Tashjian's role is a rarity in MLS. Only one other club has someone analyzing performances through analytics.
Berhalter has also mentioned that the team has strengthened their scouting network. That was an overlooked area before Precourt and Berhalter took over. Coaches often did the work to scout players while keeping up with their first team duties. Now there is dedicated scouting throughout the world as Crew SC searches for talent to improve the team.
The latest piece is moving affiliation from Dayton to Austin. Crew SC sent several players to Dayton last season and results were mixed. Aaron Schoenfeld and Kavan George would improve enough to keep their roster spots. Ross Friedman, Matt Walker, and Matt Wiet didn't show enough and Crew SC declined their options. Brad Stuver couldn't get playing time and would eventually head to the Wilmington Hammerheads.
While Dayton has struggled with extensive turnover in the coaching staff, Austin has a high profile coaching hire Paul Dalglish who has ties to the team. Much like Berhalter, Dalglish is expected to have broad powers to build the club.
None of these changes happened quickly, it was a step by step process. Berhalter's revolution has turned out to be an evolution as the talent on and off the field adapt to what it now means to be a member of Columbus Crew SC. After a playoff appearance in 2014, big things are expected in 2015. This is a team that will be expected to set their sights on the upper reaches of the Eastern Conference and even compete for the MLS Cup.