It’s not uncommon at Columbus Crew SC training to see a young, less familiar face practicing with the first team. For the most part, with the exception of Kelechi Iheanacho, these are members of Crew SC’s Academy who have impressed enough at their level to get to train under the watchful eye of Gregg Berhalter.
When the Black & Gold began preseason at SuperKick in Lewis Center, Ohio, four of these players were working with the team. But they were not just doing so for the team’s one day in Columbus.
“This is the first time, at least since I’ve been here... that we’re taking Academy players to preseason with us,” Berhalter said.
The four academy players training and playing with the Black & Gold are midfielder Sean Zawadzki, defender Aboubacar Keita, forward Colin Biros, and goalkeeper Logan Kowalczyk. Isaiah Parente was also invited to train with the first team, but has enrolled at Wake Forest for their spring season.
This is a big step for these players’ development, but it’s also an important moment for the club.
“We’re excited about that, it shows how far our Academy has come,” Berhalter said.
The recently traded Justin Meram shared his thoughts on playing with, and challenging, the young Academy players on Columbus’ first day of preseason training. When asked how his experience in meeting young players, Meram discussed the social aspects of being a veteran and welcoming young players, “bring them along... make fun of them, everything I went through, you know you build a relationship with these guys like that.”
He also stressed the importance of teaching and pushing all of the new, young players. “You put your arm around them and help them, especially the Academy kids.”
According to Meram he had specifically developed a kinship with Keita.
“Me and (Aboubakar) got a nice little relationship so I’m trying to push him and make him feel welcome, make them feel a little uneasy at times so they will understand how to be at this level every day,” he said.
The former Black & Gold winger was impressed with the skill displayed by the Academy players. “They are very talented... it’s great to see these young kinds with so much talent” and joking that “I think they’ve got a better touch than I do.”
After spending time with the first team during their first few days in Columbus, the four Academy players traveled with the first team to Casa Grande, Arizona where Keita and Baros saw second-half action in Crew SC’s first preseason match against the Colorado Rapids. These four, young players will stay with the Black & Gold through the training session in Arizona and will head back to Ohio when the first team travels to Hawaii.