Columbus Crew SC made a major off the field move this morning as they announced an agreement with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds to serve as the team's USL-Pro affiliate for the 2016 season. The deal replaces the on hiatus Austin Aztex as the affiliate for Columbus.
Pittsburgh was a clear choice for Head Coach Gregg Berhalter as the Riverhounds and Crew SC have a similar mentality, "I think the alignment is there and it's going to make the transition with our players much easier."
Berhalter also stressed the importance of finding the right partner pays off on the field for Crew SC, "We want to develop our players, we want to give them game time and we want to be in a position where we can use them again for the first team."
Berhalter also noted, "You saw the benefits of that when Aaron Schoenfeld went to Dayton. He was the league's top scorer and he came back and had a great impact with the first team."
This will be the third USL-Pro affiliate for Crew SC. Mark McCullers and Brian Bliss signed a two year deal with the Dayton Dutch Lions in 2013. The deal lapsed at the end of 2014 as Dayton moved to the USL Premier Development League. Columbus used the partnership significantly in 2014 with Schoenfeld breaking his way into the Crew SC lineup after 12 goals in Dayton.
Crew SC then signed a year long deal with the Austin Aztex for the 2015 season, but suspended operations after the season due to stadium and financial difficulties stemming from the floods that inundated House Park Stadium and forced them to relocate midseason. Columbus sent four players to Austin over the deal with Romain Gall leading the way with 12 appearances.
The partnership is flexible on the numbers of players who have to be sent on loan. Crew SC will assess the roster during preseason. Previously, the team has sent young players in the past for seasoning, but the proximity, a three hour car ride, will also allow for some players to get back to match fit or coming off of injuries by getting minutes with the Riverhounds.
After struggling to find a suitable affiliate the past couple years, Crew SC may have found a longer term partner with Pittsburgh. The Riverhounds, with their own stadium and lengthy history, are more stable than the Dutch Lions. They are far closer than the Aztex based in Texas. Both appear ready to benefit from the partnership.