Columbus Crew SC took to the practice field last week with a new manager for the first time in five years. A change in management always signals multiple changes elsewhere, but one place new boss Caleb Porter is looking to keep consistent is the historically strong locker room culture that was built and cultivated during the Gregg Berhalter years.
The strong group of leaders, coupled with former manager in Berhalter, was able to keep the team steady and focused during the potential Austin relocation saga, leading the team to two deep playoff runs in the midst of an uncertain future. Utility man Hector Jimenez commended the team’s ability to move on and that “everything last year stayed in the locker room” during the tough 2018 season.
A strong, internal leadership group has been crucial to helping keep a diverse group of players stable during the past seasons.
“To come back in here and have the same voices, the same leaders, it’s good especially when you have almost an entirely new staff come in,” center back Josh Williams said.
Instead of shake up this group, Porter has looked to build upon the strong connections inside the locker room. “I’m not coming to reinvent the wheel,” Porter said multiple times, referring both to the team’s playing style and internal community.
“I had a lot of respect for these guys as individuals and as a team,” he continued. “It’s nice to be in the locker room and to talk to the group.”
Jimenez gave some additional insight on Porter’s desire to keep the locker room consistent: “He mentioned the culture of the locker room that Gregg left here. That will reflect a lot on this year and he likes it. He likes what Gregg left but also wants to improve and change things a little bit to make them his way.”
During his first few days with the team, the Black & Gold’s newest manager took the time to meet with each player. In each of these 30-minute meetings, Porter looked to get to know his new players, not only on the field but who they are as people off it.
“I really enjoyed that because I can get to know them as people which I feel is really important,” he said. “Everybody’s unique. They all have their unique differences which I really like. So that was good, to learn about their families, learn about their stories and that kind of stuff, that was great.”
The Crew’s first-round pick, striker JJ Williams, went into his meeting with is new coach treating it as a job interview. As it turns out, he was in for a surprise.
“We had a little individual meeting... kinda get to know (each other) a little bit more,” he said. “You come in, you see Caleb Porter and all the other coaches. You think of it as an interview but he said it’s more of me getting to know you because we’re going to have to work together.”
This informal, personal meeting gave Crew players a chance to see their boss in a new light. The notoriously focused Porter was described by new Homegrown signing Aboubacar Keita as “a laid back guy” off the field.
Though these personal meetings might be common among coaches, they were well-received by the veteran players.
“It’s not something that every coach does but it’s not out of the norm,” longtime MLS veteran Ricardo Clark told Massive Report. “It’s good to connect. The more we can connect, the better. And when a coach or staff takes the initiative to initiate that, it’s always a good sign.”
Josh Williams is another veteran who is eager to move forward with his new manager. Entering his ninth MLS season, Williams is familiar with Porter, the success he’s had and hopes to learn something new from his new head coach.
“I think it’s going to be easy for everyone,” Williams said. “I’m excited to grow under him and see what Caleb has to offer us. He’s here to teach us and we’re here to learn from him... It’s cool to learn about him more.”
Like Josh Williams and Jimenez said, there is already a strong leadership group in the Crew locker room. With Porter reaching out to get to know the men behind each jersey, the Black & Gold should be able to maintain their tight-knit group into the new era.