Columbus Crew 2: Why the Crew see new second team as vital part of player pipeline

Columbus Crew 2 team logo.
Columbus Crew 2 team logo.

Ever since the 2019 hiring of Tim Bezbatchenko as general manager and president of the Columbus Crew, the club planned to create a second team that could bridge the gap between the academy and MLS team. That finally happened Monday with the official unveiling of the new MLS development league.

The Crew’s developmental team, named Crew 2, will compete in the inaugural season of the 21-team MLS Next Pro league beginning in March. Eight additional MLS developmental teams will enter the league in 2023, with potential for other independent teams in the future, the league’s press release stated.

Crew 2 will play their games at Crew Stadium, formerly known as Mapfre Stadium.

Crew Investor-Owner Jimmy Haslam, here watching the academy team, will soon have another roster of players to keep an eye on, as development team Crew 2 was introduced Monday.
Crew Investor-Owner Jimmy Haslam, here watching the academy team, will soon have another roster of players to keep an eye on, as development team Crew 2 was introduced Monday.

A full schedule was not announced by MLS, but the league said the season would begin in March and end with playoffs in September.

The new league will be similar to Minor League Baseball and the NBA G League in that Crew 2 can be a stop for players who need more development after playing with the Crew Academy or in college; however, Crew 2 is controlled by the Crew organization rather than being an affiliate. .

Corey Wray, assistant general manager of the Crew and general manager of Crew 2, said that in addition to developing talent, players from the Crew's MLS club can also be temporarily loaned to Crew 2 for playing time when they are recovering from injury or during international breaks when MLS won’t have games.

Wray said MLS has few restrictions on who can be on the roster — such as an age limit — leaving decisions on how to use the developmental team up to the clubs. However, just as with MLS, teams are limited to seven spots for international players, which can be traded away or acquired.

"It's really up to us how we want to use it and weight the benefits of doing so,” Wray said. “It's very open for sure, and the goal of the whole league is to be more flexible and fluid in some of those player movements, where in other kinds of set-ups we thought there was too much restriction that didn't allow us to put the player at the forefront of the kind of opportunity.”

Wray also said some of the better academy players can sign a type of “agreement” that would allow that player to play on Crew 2 but still keep collegiate eligibility. He expected about 20 players to be signed strictly to Crew 2. There’s no salary cap, but if that player is promoted, his pay will affect the MLS salary cap.

The main benefits of this new league and Crew 2, Wray said, is they allow the club to keep players within the club while getting them games and having more evaluation time. The two also create a new market for younger international players with the potential to be signed directly to Crew 2.

A coaching staff hasn’t been hired yet, but Wray said that announcement will be made in the coming weeks, and the head coach will be an internal hire.

"There still will be some pressure to succeed and carry out the vision, but this gives all those different stakeholders a really good chance to have some ups and downs before getting into the real tough business of first-team soccer at the MLS level,” Wray said. “I think that is really crucial for anyone's development."

Columbus Crew 2 alternative logo.
Columbus Crew 2 alternative logo.

jmyers@dispatch.com

@_jcmyers

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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: How Crew will use Crew 2, how MLS Next Pro league works

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