The offseason is a busy time for any Major League Soccer club. But Columbus Crew SC is in a unique space. After the success of the Save The Crew movement, fans are joyous over the takeover by new investor-operators Pete Edwards and Dee and Jimmy Haslam. The negative to that change is there is a lot to be done in a small amount of time.
With the Edwards and Haslams officially becoming interim owners of the Crew on Jan. 1, that left three months and one day before the start of the regular season. Over that time, the new ownership group had to hire staff to be ready for the year. That began when it was announced that former Toronto FC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko was named the new club president and Caleb Porter, formerly of the Portland Timbers, was hired as head coach.
But both parties still have plenty to do to get their respective staffs in place.
Although still listed as members of the staff on the team’s official website, both assistant coaches Josh Wolff and Nico Estevez left to join former Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter in his new role as U.S. Men’s National Team head coach. This means Porter has at least two spots to fill on his staff.
Given that he wasn’t officially hired until Jan. 4, it has been difficult for Porter to officially formulate a staff.
“I’ve been working a little bit behind the scenes but those are things I couldn’t really work on because of takeover, transition budgets, all those things,” he said recently of putting a staff together. “So I obviously have a list and I’ve been talking behind the scenes to guys but we’re ready to pull the trigger.”
According to Porter, the Black & Gold will add two new assistants in the near future. He explained that while soccer coaches coach all aspects of the game, he would prefer to have one coach with more knowledge of the attack and another that’s a bit more defensive minded.
“I have guys in mind,” he continued. “They’ll be guys that compliment me. I like to work with new guys. I like develop coaches and I also like to learn from new coaches and new people. I have my way of working but part of me being energized is working with different people, top people, talented people.
“I do already have one staff member in place. It’s not been announced but he was a guy that I brought with me from Portland. Great guy, great coach, good person, does all my video. He’s like my coach whisper. He’s the guy I’ve brought with me every single place I go. He’s already on board. He’s Uruguayan, he speaks Spanish, he’ll be drinking mate with Pipa in the locker room. He’s a good guy.”
The already hired coach that Porter referred to is Pablo Moreira, who played for Porter at Akron and then returned as the Zips’ Director of Soccer Operations. He moved with Porter to the Timbers where he was the team’s player relations manager/video analyst.
Columbus’ lone remaining assistant coach from the Berhalter staff is goalkeeper coach Pat Onstad. During the transition of ownership, and with the departure of Berhalter who was also the sporting director, Onstad was appointed interim general manager. When asked recently about remaining in this type of role, Onstad said he has enjoyed his time there.
“Gregg was the one who really kind of pointed it out,” Onstad explained. “He said, ‘I think you kind of have those qualities and the ability to do this.’ He’s been very helpful and very encouraging of this opportunity for me. I thank both ownership groups for this.”
Bezbatchenko, who says he sees hiring someone to work underneath him and handle the personnel decisions on a more day-to-day basis, is open to the idea of Onstad remaining in this type of role if that’s what he wants to do.
“Pat has done a tremendous job,” he said. “So working with him to see if he’s going to stay on the field or maybe come in permanently to the front office. So that’s TBD but certainly need someone to be doing that on a daily basis.”
But that’s not all Bezbatchenko has to deal with at the moment. A number of front office staff members either left due to uncertainty with their jobs over the last year or made the move with the previous ownership group of Precourt Sports Ventures to Austin, Texas.
It’s needless to say, Bezbatchenko has plenty on his plate before the start of the year.
“There’s a lot of openings just because of the way things have happened,” he said. “I’ll examine that, dissect that over the next couple of weeks. I think the first is actually to sit down and speak to the people who stayed, and the loyal employees. It’s actually emotional because they’ve been through a lot. I want to sit with them and talk to them about their experiences and what they think our group needs to be successful. And then obviously we’ll fill in the holes. I always like to promote from within if we can. People that have shown that loyalty and encourage. So we’ll see.”
There’s rarely time to rest in the world of professional sports, but with the 2019 Crew, break time is even less given the unique situation. The good news is that this group is experienced with the league and understands what needs to be done to have things as ready as possible before the start of the season.