It’s no secret that everyone involved with Columbus Crew SC, from the owners to the fans, has high hopes for the 2020 campaign. A large part of this responsibility falls on the shoulders of the coaching staff, which has undergone some changes, even since this time last year. With that in mind, let’s get an idea of who will be leading the Black & Gold this season.
Following an abysmal 2019 campaign, Columbus fans are eager to see what head coach Caleb Porter has in store for them this year. March 1 marks the beginning of Porter’s second season at the helm of the Crew as he looks to improve on his first. Porter has Ohio roots as he led Akron to a NCAA College Cup Championship in 2010. In addition to this, Porter served as the United States Under-23 National Team coach before taking over the Portland Timbers in 2013. Porter worked quickly in Portland, winning the MLS Cup with the Timbers in 2015, against the Crew (cue traumatic images).
In his second year in Columbus, Porter has wasted little time in making this his team. This can be traced back to last season even, exemplified by the acquisition of David Guzman, who is no longer with the Black & Gold. Newer examples of this include the signings of Darlington Nagbe and Fanendo Adi, who were both with Porter in Portland. Perhaps the best example of Porter sculpting this team to fit his system was the recent transfer of former captain Wil Trapp. While there were other factors in play, Trapp did not appear best suited for the role that Porter deployed him in. This news has certainly rocked the Crew fan base and has, at the very least, caused some raised eyebrows in Columbus.
Despite all this, Black & Gold fans can take solace with the idea that, at the very least, Porter has his guys here now. Which is a good sign considering his proven track record of winning everywhere that he has been.
Ben Cross will return for his second season with the Crew first team in 2020 after he was involved with the Academy coaching staff for several years. Cross joined the Crew Academy staff in 2016 as the U-17/18 head coach and quickly rose through the ranks, takiing over the U-18/19 Academy team. During this time, Cross led the U-18/19’s to a club-best third-place finish in the Development Academy playoffs. In addition, Cross was named the Development Academy Central Conference Coach of the year in 2018.
Cross has a great understanding of Columbus as a club and community thanks to his work with the Academy. One can infer that Cross will play a large part in the development of Homegrown products Sebastian Berhalter and Aidan Morris, as he coached both previously in the Academy. For a young player, having a coach that you connect with can make all the difference. This is a good sign for the Crew as at least one (if not both) of the young signees will be asked to contribute at some point this year.
Ezra Hendrickson comes back for another year with the Black & Gold in 2020 after joining partway through last season. Hendrickson is another member of the coaching staff with strong connections to Columbus thanks to his playing days with the Crew from 2006-2008. A stalwart in defense, Hendrickson was a part of the 2008 squad that took home both the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup, which is undoubtedly the best year in club history. Hendrickson had a decorated career as a player, accumulating the MLS Cups, three Supporters’ Shields, a U.S. Open Cup title and CONCACAF Champions Cup to boot.
As much success as he had as a player, Hendrickson has found plenty of success in his time on the touchline. After his playing days, Hendrickson joined the late Sigi Schmid as an assistant for the Seattle Sounders, where they compiled a Supporters’ Shield and four U.S. Open Cup titles. Hendrickson then took over Seattle’s USL outfit, the creatively named Sounders 2 (now the Tacoma Defiance). Most recently, Hendrickson was an assistant with the LA Galaxy. Crew fans can hope that Hendrickson will bring his expertise in defending to help bolster the backline in 2020. A little magic leftover from 2008 wouldn’t be unwelcome either.
If Caleb Porter is Batman then Pablo Moreira is Robin. The two have been intertwined at almost every stage of their careers. Moreira, a Cleveland native, first met Porter during his playing days at the University of Akron in 2006 and 2007. After an accomplished collegiate career, Moreira began as a video analyst at his alma mater. Shortly after, Moreira made the trek to the Pacific Northwest with Porter to fill the analyst role for the Timbers in 2013. One year later, Moreira transitioned to the Portland coaching staff where he remained from 2014 to 2017.
Moreira rejoined Porter last year in the same role he filled for the Timbers. In his playing days, Moreira featured in an attacking role for the Zips. One can infer then, that Moreira is heavily involved in Crew’s attacking play on the field. This is likely a positive for Black & Gold moving forward, as the attacking ideas from both Moreira and Porter have been finely tuned through the years.
Early on in the preseason, in the viewable matches, the Crew showed some promise in creating a number of dangerous chances in front of goal, especially against a very lackluster Houston Dynamo defense. Though it is early, it will be interesting to see if the new additions, coupled with Moreira and Porter’s comfortability with the players and system, can improve Columbus’ goal-scoring numbers in 2020.
In their five years together in Portland, Moreira and Porter never once finished outside the top 10 in goals scored in the league and finished first in goals scored twice. Crew supporters can only hope that the second time around is more fruitful than the 2019 campaign which produced a meager 39 goals, third-worst in the league.
We finish up with the most experienced member of the Crew sstaff, Tim Hanely. This will be Hanely’s first season in Columbus after a plethora of MLS coaching experiences, including stints with the San Jose Earthquakes, Houston, the Galaxy and the Philadelphia Union. In his time in MLS, Hanely has reached the MLS Cup Final a total of five times, winning the three trophies. Hanley has also worked in the collegiate game with Stanford (2001-2005).
A goalkeeper in his playing days, Hanely had a five-year professional career featuring time with the Tampa Bay Rowdies and the Earthquakes, as well as stints in Scotland and Switzerland.
It’s safe to assume that Hanely’s main role will be with the goalkeepers in Columbus. This is no small task, with the addition of recent signing Andrew Tarbell, the Black & Gold now have four goalkeepers on the roster. With Eloy Room as the clear number one for Columbus, the management of this goalkeeping core may prove to be difficult with a small number of repetitions and game minutes available for the three backup goalkeepers.
One thing to keep an eye on is the development of Tarbell this year with Hanely. Following the surprise move to obtain his services, combined with his stellar preseason performance, Porter and company may have their eye on the future with Tarbell. Thus, if he is able to develop under Hanely and learn from Room, the Black & Gold could have a stellar replacement ready for the future.