The Columbus Crew and Austin FC connection has been well established this offseason — somewhat to Crew fans' frustration — as a number of former Black & Gold players have chosen to sport the green of the Major League Soccer expansion side that is run by former Crew investor/operator Antony Precourt. Now there is another Columbus connection in Austin.
On Wednesday, the Crew announced that second-year midfielder Sebastian Berhalter is going on loan to Austin FC for the 2021 season. In exchange, the Crew received $50,000 in 2021 General Allocation Money. If Berhalter meets certain performance marks this year, the Black & Gold will receive an additional $50,000 in Allocation Money. At the conclusion of the 2021 season, Austin has the option to trade for the player’s rights on a permanent basis.
“As a young player, it is important for Sebastian to get regular minutes to aid his development,” Crew president and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko said in the release announcing the move. “With Sebastian entering his second year at the professional level, it is vital that we continue to create a path that allows him to obtain more experience. This opportunity gives him a chance to gain valuable MLS time, in a different market, which will help in his growth as a player.”
The addition of so many former Columbus players in Austin comes as no surprise. Austin FC named Josh Wolff as the team’s first ever head coach in July of 2019. He was an assistant for the Black & Gold under Gregg Berhalter, Sebastian's father, from 2014-18. Wolff departed when Berhalter took the U.S. Men’s National Team head coaching job following the 2018 season.
Sebastian Berhalter is a Crew Academy product and was signed as a Homegrown Player ahead of the 2020 season. As a rookie, Berhalter made nine regular season appearances, including four starts, in the central midfield for Columbus.
Berhalter played one year at the University of North Carolina during the 2019 collegiate season. He made 16 appearances for the Tar Heels during his freshman campaign.
As reported by Massive Report following the signing of veteran midfielder Perry Kitchen, the Crew staff is happy with the development of both of the team’s young midfielders in Berhalter and fellow second-year player Aidan Morris but wanted to add experience in Kitchen to play alongside one of these two when rotation is needed. Massive Report also reported that it was likely one of Berhalter or Morris spends time on loan.
Berhalter will now get a chance to learn and develop under Wolff and his staff in Austin as part of the 2021 MLS expansion side.
The Crew’s current 2021 roster:
Goalkeepers (4): Evan Bush, Eric Dick, Matt Lampson, Eloy Room
Defenders (8): Harrison Afful, Waylon Francis, Aboubacar Keita, Grant Lillard, Jonathan Mensah, Milton Valenzuela, Josh Williams, Vito Wormgoor
Midfielders (11): Artur, Luis Diaz, Derrick Etienne, Jr., Marlon Hairston, Perry Kitchen, Aidan Morris, Kevin Molino, Darlington Nagbe, Isaiah Parente, Pedro Santos, Lucas Zelarayan
Forwards (3): Miguel Berry, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Gyasi Zardes