It’s been just over a month since the Columbus Crew ended the 2022 Major League Soccer season in disappointing fashion, failing to make the MLS Cup playoffs for the second straight year. This means it’s also been just over a month that the team has not had a head coach.
Caleb Porter, who took over the team prior to the 2019 season, was relieved of his coaching duties on Oct. 10, one day after the Crew dropped a 2-1 result at Orlando City SC that saw the Black & Gold miss the postseason yet again. Since that time, those in the front office have been taking the next steps in minding the next man for the job.
“We want to go through the process,” club president and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko said on Oct. 26. “And the most important thing is establishing our criteria and finding an individual, along with their staff, that is committed to this project. And I do say project because it’s getting alignment from the top down at our club. First team, Crew 2, Academy, understanding our commitments to the community, understand our role within MLS and how we’re going to find competitive advantages in the league.
“So it’s going to take some time. I would expect, or I would hope, by mid-December, we would have it finalized and announced. But we’d like to do it sooner if possible.”
Bezbatchenko’s comments came late last month and while it might not appear on the outside that much has happened since, those inside the OhioHealth Performance have been working to appoint the eighth full-time head coach in team history.
Sources told Massive Report that the Crew began initial interviews with candidates around the time of Bezbatchenko’s last public comments. Since then, second interviews have taken place with candidates who are believed to be the best fit to take over the head coaching position for the Black & Gold.
Massive Report’s understanding is that a wide net was cast, likely further than most fans would expect, to find the next manager. As Bezbatchenko mentioned previously, this includes those at other MLS clubs who have been successful but also coaches in other domestic leagues and internationally. While experience managing is something the club will take into account, it is not make-or-break criteria.
The biggest focus for the front office is getting this hire right, regardless of how long it takes. Porter and Bezbatchenko were able to put together a roster that won MLS Cup in 2020. Despite not being able to match that success the last two seasons, Columbus came a total of three points short of being in the playoffs.
“I think we have a really talented roster,” Bezbatcehnko said. “We have a solid core group of players. We have a good blend of veterans and youth. So I think we are very close, right? The last few years we haven’t qualified, we haven’t met our goals in terms of qualifying for the playoffs, getting top four, but we’re not lightyears away either. And so, what we’ve noticed in our player meetings is how excited our players are about playing with each other, their belief in the talent in our roster. No one has come in and talked about and shared feelings about us needing to make major changes, and we obviously share those feeling. We’re close but we also need to examine why we didn’t meet our goals.”
The team’s next head coach will be tasked with taking this group that has certainly shown potential and getting back to the top of MLS. This is why the Crew isn’t looking for a coach that will deviate too far from the style of play of the club under its last two managers but rather find ways to execute within that basic system. The Black & Gold understands the roster has been designed in a certain way and believes in that style.
And while that doesn’t mean doing things the same way as Porter or Gregg Berhalter before him or necessarily lining up in a 4-2-3-1 formation every match, the new head coach must fit with the overall possession-based, attacking philosophy of the club.
“We want to be a team that has a good, strong record at home, that’s exciting to play at Lower.com Field, that scores goals at home, an attractive style play,” Bezbatchenko said. “And all of those things are important and contribute to achieving our goals.”
Those in the Columbus front office believe this team remains in a championship window. Building around key players such as Jonathan Mensah, Darlington Nagbe, Lucas Zelarayan and Cucho Hernandez, the Crew is an attractive option for a coach to come and succeed. The Black & Gold front office also recently made offseason moves that will allow for flexibility for a new manager to add his own pieces to the puzzle.
Now it’s up to Bezbatchenko and others within the club’s front office to make the right hire for Columbus.
“I think it’s the most important decision you have to make as a president and GM, who’s gonna lead the team on the field week in and week out for an entire season,” Bezbatchenko said. “And I’m excited about this opportunity. I don’t take it lightly. I think it’s one that you have to create a process, and if you have a process and you’re disciplined in your criteria and you collaborate with others in terms of what they want to see, I think you can have a good outcome.”