Columbus Crew SC ended its 2018 season just a week ago and while the team won’t be on the field again for another three months, it’s already time to think about 2019 for Massive Report. This could be the busiest offseason for the Black & Gold in years and over the next few days we’ll try to address the five most urging questions for the franchise.
For the first article of the series, we had to start with this topic: Who’s going to coach the Crew in 2019?
Gregg Berhalter has led the Black & Gold on and off the field for the last five seasons with undeniable success, but he’s considered the top choice to coach the U.S. Men’s National Team and has been linked with other jobs. An announcement in regards to Berhalter’s future could happen at any moment now that the season is over in Columbus.
If Berhalter stays, that’s great news for the Crew but with all signs pointing the opposite direction, the club could go three different ways if he indeed takes over elsewhere. With a new ownership group set to purchase the team, it’s hard to predict what the strategy could be.
The first route would be following the saying “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” That means keeping the system in place as much as possible and the obvious choice here would be elevating Berhalter’s long-time assistant Josh Wolff to the head coach position. The former player has been considered one of the best assistant coaches in Major League Soccer and has already interviewed for head coach positions around the league in the past.
Wolff has been working with Berhalter since he joined the Crew, in 2014, but his affinity with him dates back to 2007 when they were teammates at Germany’s 1860 Munich. With him at the helm, it’s fair to assume that the team would adopt a very similar style, even though Wolff would have more power to make any changes if he wanted.
It’s unclear, if Berhalter were to take over the National Team, if he would want to take Wolff to be part of his coaching staff there — or if Wolff would want to remain an assistant even at that level — but there’s probably no better place for him to start his solo flight than the Crew and that could make him stay.
If ownership is looking for changes, there are some veteran MLS coaches available on the market. Possibly the first name to be considered is Caleb Porter, who left the Portland Timbers last season, two years after leading them to a win in the 2015 MLS Cup Final over Columbus. Porter has already coached in Ohio and enjoyed some success at the University of Akron, so maybe he would see a return to the Buckeye State as a positive.
Other options could be Sigi Schmid, who coached the Crew during the team’s 2008 MLS Cup campaign and recently gave a speech to the team after a game at MAPFRE Stadium, and Jason Kreis, who was spotted at a training session at Obetz some weeks ago. Other experienced coaches currently out of a job are Bruce Arena, Carl Robinson and Pablo Mastroeni.
The international route is arguably the most unpredictable one, as coaches from all over the globe could be considered. Bringing a new coach to a complex league such as MLS can always be risky strategy, but some teams such as New York City FC with Patrick Vieira and Atlanta United with Tata Martino showed it can also be a successful one.
If the Crew goes international, one name that will certainly come up is the one of Guillermo Barros Schelotto. Considered by many the best player in team’s history, the Argentinean is currently coaching Boca Juniors in his home country and even though he recently stated he would love to coach in MLS in the future, it’s hard to tell if the right time would be now. Schelotto has also recently been linked with replacing Martino, who will become the next Mexico head coach, in Atalanta, so the Black & Gold may have local competition for his services if this is the route the team chooses to go.
Regardless of the direction selected, if Berhalter indeed leaves the Crew will also need to find a capable replacement for his sporting director role. The coach has been heavily involved in player acquisition and contract negotiation since his arrival and this could become a job for the next head coach or to a different professional.
Berhalter has been one of the faces of the Columbus Crew for most of the last five years and the team has played to his resemblance in a successful stretch. Any coaching transition can be complicated and that makes this a key question to be answered by the Black & Gold in the next weeks.