The pathway from the Academy to the Columbus Crew first team got much clearer on Monday. The club announced the long-awaited Crew 2, a second team that will provide a step for players from the team’s Academy to the first team, as well as a chance for current professionals to continue their development within the club.
Crew 2 will take part in the inaugural MLS Next Pro, Major League Soccer’s new second-team league, in 2022. The new league under the MLS umbrella was announced as well on Monday. Crew 2 will play its regular season matches at historic Crew Stadium and compete for the MLS NEXT Pro championship alongside 20 other clubs.
“The Columbus Crew is the original club in Major League Soccer and we are proud to be one of the original and founding members of MLS Next Pro,” Crew president and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko said in the press release announcing Crew 2. “We aspire to be an innovative Club - a Club that aims to be at the forefront of soccer development at all levels, and we believe the creation of the second team allows us to continue pursuing that endeavor. Crew 2 will provide Crew Academy players with a more well-defined pathway into the professional ranks while also providing opportunities for first team players to earn minutes. Moreover, Crew 2 will be a platform to develop top talent across the technical staff.”
As previously reported by Massive Report, Crew 2 will serve similar to an Under-23 team, allowing Academy players and graduates the opportunity to play at a higher level, while giving a place for current first-team players to get minutes when out of the squad or recovering from injuries.
Unlike many MLS second teams in recent years, Crew 2 will not be involved in the USL leagues, but take part directly in the MLS’s new Next Pro league. This will work in a similar way to MLS reserve leagues of the past but with more structure and direction this time around.
While details on staffing for much of Crew 2 are still being worked out, it was previously announced that Crew assistant general manager Corey Wray will oversee the second team as Crew 2 general manager. Wray has experience working with MLS second teams in his previous role as assistant GM of team operations and strategy with Toronto FC where he managed the high potential player development program of the club, including Toronto FC II.
“We are excited about embarking in our inaugural season in MLS Next Pro,” Wray said in the release. “We know that adding such an important development platform is crucial to the long-term viability of clubs. By having a second team we will not only be able to bridge the existing gap in our academy to professional level pathway, but also offer meaningful, consistent opportunities to a number of our high potential prospects. In addition to developing players, Crew 2 will provide us with another venue through with we can engage with our community, which has been a cornerstone of the Club since its inception.”
MLS Next Pro will begin its first season of play in 2022, kicking off in March and running through September. The league will feature 21 teams, including 19 other MLS clubs and one independent club.
Ticket information for Crew 2 matches will be announced at a later date.