It wasn't a big-time player acquisition, but the Columbus Crew SC organization made a major announcement on Wednesday afternoon. The Black & Gold announced a revamping of the team's Academy system and the addition of new staff members for the Academy.
With this announcement, the philosophy and style sporting director and head coach Gregg Berhalter brought to the team before last season will be installed in all areas of the club.
"When I first came in, the initiative was to work around the first team," Berhalter said on a conference call to discuss the announcement. "As that started developing, you start setting your sights on other things that need work and we clearly identified the Academy, the structure within the Academy, as needing improvement. On a direct mandate from ownership, from Mr. Precourt, we wanted to improve and I think not only have we improved, but we have one of the best staffs in any academy in all of America right now."
The Academy already has some of the best youth coaches in the area and hired Nico Estevez, who spent eight years working with Valencia CF's reserve and academy teams, as Director of Methodology last year to help translate ideas from the first team to appropriate levels. Now, Michael Millazo will join the staff as Academy Director.
"I am very excited to join Columbus Crew SC," Millazo told the team's website. "The First Team has become known across the country for a very specific and proactive style of play and earned a reputation as a player-first club. I value the opportunity to work with Gregg and the Academy staff to extend the soccer philosophy of the club to our Academy program. I am also looking forward to working with the local youth soccer leaders from Ohio to continue producing players who grow up to play professionally for Ohio's MLS team."
Millazo, who worked with CASL, a North Carolina-based soccer league, and most recently as Academy Director with Richmond Strikers SC, shares a similar philophy with Berhalter and will be tasked with bringing the culture of the first team through all levels of the Crew SC Academy.
"We have a staff now that we feel that is going to establish a strong culture within the Academy and really embody the philosophy of the club in terms of soccer," Berhalter said. "It's going to play a very similar playing style, really look into developmental aspects of youth soccer, and I think make a big impact on the first team in the future."
The attacking, possession-based playing style Berhalter prefers has become synonymous with the Black & Gold over the last two seasons. Berhalter and Millazo look to bring that same identity to the youth teams so these players are accustomed with the style by the time they reach the first team level.
"First and foremost was to establish a culture on and off the field that was in line with the expectations of the first team," Millazo said.
"When you talk about playing style first and foremost. So when you look at culture and establishing that, the first element was to implement the similar and same playing style."
Both are also looking to embody the first team's connection to the city of Columbus and the state of Ohio that it established during the rebrand of the club.
"We want the entire community, the players, the staff to be proud of the particular playing style," Millazo said. "I would say that we want to associate the brand of football that Gregg has brought to the city to transcend beyond his time here."
While the Crew SC Academy has established itself in the community as one of the top clubs for young players, it is still competing with plenty of central Ohio's best for local talent. In order to recruit the best, Berhalter already has his pitch for the new-look program prepared.
"The first thing I would say is that there's going to be an extremely high level of coaching," the head coach said as if he were talking to a potential player's parent. "The second thing I would say is that they're going to be given a sense of identity. They're going to be able to be proud for what they're a part of and I think that's the most important thing."