Monday, the Columbus Crew made a major announcement in the history of the club. Starting in March of 2022, Crew 2, the club’s second team, will begin play as part of Major League Soccer’s new MLS NEXT Pro. The announcement of the developmental league created excitement across MLS, but it also prompted a lot of questions.
Thursday, Crew front office leadership helped answer those questions. Inside the OhioHealth Performance Center at historic Crew Stadium, Crew president and general manager Tim Bezbackenko and Crew 2 general manager Corey Wray outlined the team’s future.
Here are some major points fans should know about the new team as part of the Black & Gold’s organization:
Coaching and roster
Every team needs a head coach and Crew 2 is no exception. Who will be the helm of Crew 2 is yet to be decided, but Bezbachenko and Wray will look inside the current team’s staff. The idea behind likely keeping the hiring process within the club is simple: Wray and Crew 2 want continuity throughout the organization.
In terms of the roster, there are no formal player announcements as of yet. However, there is a plan for the structure of the look of the team. This team will be a contingent of young talent, as MLS NEXT Pro is a development league, but that doesn’t mean these players will fill out 100 percent of the roster. Wray will also look at players that are yet to be discovered at this level.
“For our pros, guys that are maybe looked over in other clubs, guys who could be out of untapped markets, guys that could just need a little bit more time,” said Wray on a more veteran presence in the roster. “It’s a great opportunity for us to bring those types of players in here, and we will.”
On top of youth and experience, expect young international players to choose Columbus. The OhioHealth Performance Center, access to senior team coaching and a soccer stadium to play in are bargaining chips that Wray is already using since beginning recruiting calls in the summer of 2021.
Wray also stressed that this is the way that Columbus is building the developmental team but not every team in MLS NEXT Pro may follow the same outline.
While the staff and players are still being researched, there’s a clearer team goal. Crew 2 is about player development. The second team will help players grow and bridge the gap between the Crew Academy and senior team. For Wray, Crew 2 is about career over contract.
“This allows us more time to help those players have a career rather than a contract,” said Wray about Crew 2. “We say that to all our kids, ‘We don’t care about this first contract, it should be an opportunity that we give you.’ We open the door, but we are here to make a career and the only way we can do that is with this team.”
What this doesn’t mean is that loans to USL teams are over.
Crew 2 gives leadership a more hands-on way to develop future first-team talent, but sometimes a loan is needed. Expect players to get loaned away when they’ve spent years within the Crew system, but lack that real-world experience. Bezbachenko cited former Crew center back Alex Crognale as an example of this type of loan.
Bezbatchenko also gave a recent team example of a player that would’ve been perfect from Crew 2’s existence in forward Miguel Berry. The 2021 clutch goal scorer for head coach Caleb Porter’s senior side was drafted out of college and had no prior experience with the Black & Gold. Instead of having to communicate with him and his San Diego Loyal USL coach through text message or calls, Columbus could have seen his potential in the same building with a second team.
All about planning
The saying goes that things happen gradually, then suddenly. That fits the MLS NEXT Pro announcement well. Although the announcement came as a surprise, since it was made just three months before the start of the new league’s first season, Crew 2 has been in the works for years.
“You see the facility. You walk around it,” said Wray in the theatre of the new training facility. “Prior to me even coming here, there was a commitment to this program. You walk by a Crew 2 locker room. We have our staff upstairs seated next to the others in the facility. And that vision before anything like this is even announced is pretty remarkable.”
Wray joined Columbus in July of 2020. In Wray’s announcement, he was labeled as the “Crew 2 general manager,” 17 months before the team’s unveiling.
Speaking with Massive Report, Wray shared that Crew 2 and the MLS NEXT Pro announcement goes hand-in-hand with the league’s growing stature leading into negotiations for a new television deal. Getting a league onto the field in 2022 is a crucial piece of the MLS puzzle.
How to watch
Wray also shared with Massive Report that MLS NEXT Pro matches are likely to air from the team website until a new television deal is complete. That means that supporters will have the chance to watch Crew 2, even if they can’t make it to historic Crew Stadium.
“It’d be great if we had fan support,” said Wray. ”Ideally this is a research and development program. We’re here to support the player development. If we can merge them both and have a great environment with fans to help them thrive under pressure? Fantastic.”