Columbus Crew SC, like the rest of the country, is experiencing a change in plans due to the coronavirus outbreak. Like many in the United States, the Crew players and staff can’t go about their normal lives — in their case, preparing for and playing in games — as Major League Soccer remains on hiatus until at least early May.
The Black & Gold aren’t just relaxing as if it were an offseason, however. The players continue to work out, doing the best they can to remain in shape so they are ready to continue playing whenever MLS starts the season again.
Similarly, the technical staff isn’t looking at this time as a vacation. While many are glad to have more time with their families than they typically do at this point in the year, everyone involved with the Crew is working hard to keep things as close to business as usual as possible.
While there are no training sessions or games, one area the staff has proceeded with is in scouting.
“Of all the areas in our club that have been affected, I would say scouting so far, from a day to day, has been affected the least,” Crew president and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko told Massive Report. “Just because we’ve done enough of the back work and the homework in the offseason that some of that will trickle forward or be pushed forward. And we’ll continue to monitor those players that may be of interest.”
Beyond the faces many fans know — Bezbatchenko, head coach Caleb Porter and his staff — the Black & Gold have a number of people who spend a lot of time on the scouting side of the club. Technical director Pat Onstad oversees many aspects of the Crew but is very involved in scouting. Director of scouting Neil McGuinness and director of player personnel and strategy Issa Tall consistently put together lists of players who are realistic targets and fit how the team wants to play.
Typically, these three split time between Columbus and traveling to watch players around the world in person but the coronavirus has made that difficult. Fortunately, the Crew subscribes to a program called Wyscout that allows the staff to watch every game played on this planet.
“We still are working to just be prepared with players in the pipeline,” Porter said last week. “And Neil McGuinness and Issa Tall and Pat Onstad do an unbelievable job of always being ready for succession planning and having players in the pipeline, bullets in the barrel, ready in every position with options.
“I think we can continue to do that even though there aren’t games being played because we have the scouting network, we have obviously the ability to use Wyscout where we can watch players around the world to identify, profile and rate players.”
It’s not just internationally where the Black & Gold are looking for players of the future either. The staff is also scouting MLS for players that might fit the team’s playing style.
Porter assigned each of his coaches five teams to watch. The staff then went back through the first two weeks of MLS play and evaluated players around the league.
“We’re rating players on every team just as a benchmark,” Porter explained, “a way to benchmark players in the league and what we like and the type of profile that we look for.”
Since Porter took over prior to last season, Columbus has often gone to the international transfer market for players but has also added domestically. The likes of Darlington Nagbe, Waylon Francis, Jordan Hamilton and Andrew Tarbell all came through trades within the league. The Black & Gold signed Fanendo Adi, Derrick Etienne Jr., Matt Lampson and Axel Sjoberg as free agents this offseason.
An ability to scout within MLS allows for the Crew to be prepared to make additions such as these which, at the very least, can add important depth to a team throughout a season.
And while scouting, both domestically and abroad, typically continues even when the league is in session, the fact that the coaching staff is not planning and going through training sessions and preparing for games each week allows for them to be more involved in the scouting. With the extra time, the staff can give their input into specific players in a way they cannot normally during the year.
“We’re excited because we can get feedback from Caleb and the coaching staff right now in a way that maybe during a season that we can’t get on a daily basis,” Bezbatchenko explained. “It’s more of a scheduled weekly time. So Caleb and the coaches are knee-deep in video and following up on player reports that we’ve asked them to watch. And the feedback loop is more regular now.”
With no games to prepare for or training to plan while MLS is stopped, it may seem like the Crew is on a break. But similar to how the team requires the players to stay ready, the rest of the Black & Gold technical staff is doing the same.
There may be no live games to watch or players to visit at the moment, but the Crew is using this unexpected free time to continue to prepare for the future when life gets back to normal and MLS play resumes.
“We want to maximize that time the best that we can to really make ground, make ground up on clubs and teams,” Porter said. “It keeps us really busy too and focused on when we do pick back up, we’ll know the league better than ever. We’ll know players around the world better than ever. We’ll know the league and the world trends better than ever.”