Monday, the landscape of soccer in Columbus changed, with the announcement of Columbus Crew 2. Major League Soccer announced MLS Next Pro league, a league that adds another wrinkle in the professional soccer system in the United States.
While anything new can be exciting, let’s look at some of the specific positives in having a second Crew in Columbus.
The most obvious positive for the club is the development of athletes. MLS Next Pro is a developmental league that will allow teams to have a closer relationship with a player from their youth to becoming a professional.
For years, the Crew sent players on the fringe of the first team, or those who needed a year or two outside of college to refine their skills, on loan because the club did not have a reserve team. To do that, the Black & Gold shipped players to all corners of the country. Recent teams that took on Columbus players were the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Birmingham Legion or San Diego Loyal of the United Soccer League.
That’s not exactly conducive to giving young talent the chance to impress a coach or learn a team’s system.
With Crew 2, players will get to learn and play in the same city as the first team and under the same regime. For every effective loan spell outside of the organization, like Miguel Berry’s time with the Loyal, there’s a mile-long list of names that didn’t make it.
Now head coach Caleb Porter and the front office will have the opportunity to assess talent easier, both moving players up into the first team and seeing who doesn’t fit in with the club.
Another net win for the Black & Gold is getting a young, talented player first-team minutes. When schedules get congested, like the upcoming 2021 Leagues Cup with Liga MX teams or if the U.S. Open Cup or CONCACAF Champions League are on Columbus’ schedule in the future, coaches don’t have to strain first-team talent.
Look at 2021 for example. The Crew lost various players to injuries throughout the season. At one point, even loanee Liam Fraser, a midfielder, stepped in to play center back. With Crew 2, if an injury derails roster planning, the team can call up a player to the first team without having to check flights or even know if the player is up for the challenge. With a team in the city, the coaching staff will know.
Front office development
While seeing young players grow is exciting, developing the next leaders in the front office can make an even larger impact. Current Crew assistant general manager Corey Wray added Crew 2 General Manager to his title. The added responsibility allows Wray, the team and the league to see how he and his counterparts tackle this new project.
Like his current boss, Crew president and general manager Tim Bezbachenko, Wray can prove himself to earn larger responsibilities. Bezbachenko was given a chance to be a general manager in Toronto, which led to two MLS Cups.
More to support
Positives overflow for the roster and front office, but that’s not where it ends. Supporters that love the Black & Gold will get more to love with the addition of a second team in Columbus.
If following transfers, compiling stats and talking about Black & Gold soccer endlessly online is your thing, Crew 2 doubles it. It’ll make for a busy season since MLS Next Pro runs parallel to the MLS season, but for some, it brings immense joy.
All the creativity of the members of the Nordecke gets a second avenue of focus. Instead of singing songs and creating banners for one team, there will now be two.
For supporters that have followed the league since the days at Ohio Stadium, MLS Next Pro sounds like the MLS reserve league. The former development division of MLS lasted nine years, in various forms, from 2005 to 2014. A lot in soccer has changed since 2014.
While the MLS reserve league didn’t have match streaming or as much fanfare as its parent league, MLS Next Pro looks like the natural competitor to the United Soccer League.
The multi-leveled USL, where most loaned MLS players went to develop and where MLS teams placed their second teams, all feature teams with supporters groups, match broadcast, streaming capabilities and cult following. For MLS Next Pro to compete, supporters will have to up their game to compete too.
There’s no word yet on how, or if, matches will be broadcast, but Central Ohio supporters don’t have a long trip to see them in person.
Historic Crew Stadium is reborn
Outside of younger players getting a chance to blossom, historic Crew Stadium gets to chance to shine again too.
Matches in the new league kick off in March. That means the Black & Gold will run on the same field that’s held historic match after historic match in Crew and U.S. Soccer history.
The nostalgia alone will draw supporters back to historic Crew Stadium to see potential future first-team players develop, instead of watching online streams or following obscure clubs on social media.
Most importantly for historic Crew Stadium, it breathes life into a stadium that deserves to continue its place in the world of soccer in the United States after the opening of Lower.com Field.
All things considered, Crew 2 will be a new and exciting part of the club that should benefit the Black & Gold in a number of ways for years to come.