COLUMBUS – The Columbus Crew were commended for their on and off pitch excellence as the Club received “Academy of the Year” and “Best Ticket Sales Initiative of the Year” accolades during the 2023 Mark Abbott MLS Club Awards, as announced by MLS last week.
“We are incredibly proud of our Academy’s growth, success and direction, and being named 2023 Academy of the Year is a testament to the significant investments by our players, staff and leadership over the past several years,” said Columbus Crew President and General ManagerTim Bezbatchenko. “Our Technical Director Marc Nicholls, along with Dan Lock, Kelvin Jones and our Academy coaches and staff, aligned with our First Team, Corey Wray and Crew 2, established a vision and a strategic plan that has benefited our Club at all levels of competition, including most recently helping our First Team win our third MLS Cup. Our primary focus is to develop young men as players and individuals, with the key objective of developing professional players along our pathway, and they deserve this recognition for their ongoing efforts that have us positioned as an elite Academy now and for years to come.”
In addition to being named 2023 Academy of the Year, the Crew’s EASE Party Decks were selected as the league’s Ticket Sales Initiative of the Year. As part of the Club’s efforts to expand all-inclusive premium hospitality spaces to maximize building space and meet the high demand, the team during the offseason installed four outdoor bay-style seating areas that accommodate 25-56 people each.
The EASE Party Decks, which include food, beer, wine and soft drinks with the ticket purchase, sold out prior to the start of the 2023 season. Due to the strong response and supporter feedback this year, the Crew are expanding the offering by doubling the amount of bays to eight total in 2024.
“With our hospitality spaces consistently at capacity and interest continuing to increase, our team identified a need for additional premium hospitality spaces in the Columbus market and delivered with an innovative, high-quality experience for our supporters through the EASE Party Decks,” said Haslam Sports Group Chief of Strategy and Development Josh Glessing. “Adam Green, Katie Foglia and Justin Younghans from our business leadership group, along with strong collaboration from many departments and team members, created a unique, engaging space to best serve our fans and corporate partners. We congratulate and thank them for this award and initiative, which was so successful that we are increasing the areas available at Lower.com Field and expect the concept to be replicated by other sports teams.”
Teams had the ability to submit nominations for various league accolades as part of the 2023 Mark Abbott Club Awards. A panel comprised of MLS headquarters representatives selected finalists in each respective category, with the winners determined via a vote by Club stakeholders.
More about Crew Academy’s performance in 2023:
Crew Academy highlights in 2023 include honors at the Generation Adidas Cup in April held in Bradenton, Fla., where the Under-17s were Semifinalists and the Under-15s finished as Quarter Finalists. At the 2023 MLS NEXT Cup Playoffs in Dallas, Texas in late June, both the U-17 and U-15 squads finished as Quarter Finalists. Taha Habroune and Cole Mrowka were also selected to take part in the 2023 MLS NEXT All-Star Game in July.
This fall, the U-15s earned 10 wins and had an eight-game undefeated streak, ending with the regular season with a record of 10-2-0. Both groups recently traveled to Phoenix, Ariz., to compete in the MLS NEXT Fest, a showcase that is one of the most attended events in the country for youth soccer, as college, national team, professional scouts and professional coaches have access to more than 800 matches played in one location.
The UPSL team has found success in their inaugural season in the league, winning 10 of their 12 games played in the regular season. The squad flew through the Conference Playoffs, blanking Granite Masters 3-0 in the Ohio Conference Semifinals and defeating FC Cincinnati’s Academy in the Ohio Conference Final, qualifying for the 2023 National Fall Playoffs. In the National Playoffs, the UPSL squad picked up wins in the Round of 32 over Hamtramck City FC, Round of 16 over Chicago Nation FC, and Quarterfinals over Olé FC to advance to the Finals in Irvine, CA to be played on February 2-4, 2024, opponent to be confirmed.
The Columbus Crew Academy has also been represented on the national level through many Youth National Team call ups. In November, Habroune, an Academy alum turned Crew 2 signing, competed in the 2023 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Indonesia alongside Academy Coach Kelvin Jones, who joined the USYNT technical staff for the competition. The U-17s reached the Round of 16, where Habroune scored a goal in the 28th minute before falling to Germany, 2-3. In August, U-17 Academy players Chase Adams and Isaac Tortola helped lead the U.S. U-17 USYNT to the 2023 Concacaf Championship title. During the regional tournament, Adams scored three goals with Tortola adding one of his own. Habroune and Tristan Brown were also called into USYNT U-17 camp while Aaron Hurge represented Jamaica at the U-17 level. Adams and Tortola were also called into U-15 and U16 USYNT Camps this fall, while Austin Su was called into a U-15 USYNT camp earlier this year.
The Columbus Crew has a focus on connecting and unifying the different facets of the soccer organization through a Professional Player Pathway and One Club mantra and the benefits of this mindset have been seen for the Club in 2023. Four First Team Homegrowns and Academy Alumni, Sean Zawadzki, Aidan Morris, Keegan Hughes, and Isaiah Parente became 2023 MLS Cup champions at Lower.com Field on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023. Three Academy products, Taha Habroune, Stanislav Lapkes and Cole Mrowka penned contracts with Crew 2 and helped the team to hoist the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro Eastern Conference trophy. Seventeen Academy players were included on the Crew 2 roster this year. Academy players also had frequent opportunities to train with the MLS Cup Champions, as six Academy players were invited to the First Team’s preseason, while 10 Academy players had opportunities to train with the team throughout the season.
Learn more about the Columbus Crew Academy, teams, and schedules here.