The accomplishments keep coming! Two days after the Columbus Crew won the 2023 MLS Cup, the Crew Academy was named the Academy of the Year by the Major League Soccer as part of the Mark Abbott Club and Executive Awards.
That’s some seriously high praise – and deserving for this Club and its relentless pursuit to continue improving and developing the next batch of elite Columbus soccer players.
While the First Team and Crew 2 have received praise for their accomplishments, there’s plenty of Academy action that Black & Gold supporters should keep an eye on in 2024.
Here’s a brief breakdown of everything you should know:
Crew Academy Named MLS Academy of the Year
Just like the First Team is the best in the league, so is the Crew Academy, which was named the 2023 Academy of the Year by the MLS Mark Abbott Club and Executive Awards. Columbus was the recipient because of its investment in first-class resources and strong player pathway that has prioritized youth development on and off the pitch while maintaining the team’s One Club philosophy.
Additionally, Crew 2 General Manager Corey Wray was named the 2022 MLS NEXT Pro Executive of the Year and a finalist for 2023. Under Wray, the Capybaras won the league in 2022 and advanced to the MLS NEXT Pro Cup final in 2023, hosted at Lower.com Field. It should also be noted that several players from the Academy made a significant impact on Crew 2’s successful 2023 campaign.
“The Academy of the Year award is a representation of several years of hard work and investment from all levels of the club,” said Dan Lock, Director of Player Development. “From ownership and senior leadership, through to our Crew Network programming, everyone has played a role in the progression of our Academy. The award is a wonderful recognition for all the hard work put in on a daily basis from our Academy staff and players, and it is just the beginning of making the Crew Academy one of the leading academies in the United States.”
Review of MLS NEXT Fest
The Columbus Crew Academy squads had strong showings in December during MLS NEXT Fest, one of the biggest youth soccer events of the year.
With more than 800 matches played in front of college, professional and national team scouts, both the Crew U-17 and U-15 teams played three matches that helped in the Club’s seeding for next year’s Generation adidas Cup – an elite youth tournament featuring MLS and professional club academies from around the globe.
The U-15 group went unbeaten with two wins and a draw at MLS NEXT Fest. Both wins were clean sheets, and the goals came from Jamil Danjaji, Prince Forfor, Dacian Delgado and Gianmarco Di Noto.
As for the U-17 side, the boys earned a point from three matches against some of the Eastern Conference’s top competition. The team’s showing ended with a solid 2-2 draw against Atlanta United FC and reiterated the Crew’s strong attack. Across three games, the U-17s scored five goals.
UPSL Final Four Preview
The Columbus Crew First Team and Crew 2 weren’t the only two sides that lifted trophies for Columbus in 2023. Earlier this month, the Crew also won the UPSL East Regional Final and advanced to the UPSL Fall 2023 National Finals.
Two days after the First Team won MLS Cup, the UPSL side beat Ole FC, 2-1, at Lower.com Field in the regional final – securing a Final Four spot during the Club’s inaugural season within the league!
The road to the semis has been incredible. In the first round, the Crew beat FC Cincinnati, 4-3. Later, a dramatic penalty shootout against Chicago Nation FC placed Columbus into the Round of 16. Next came the match against Ole FC, which the Black & Gold won thanks to goals from Jordan Knight and Cole Mrowka.
“The UPSL platform this fall has provided our Academy and young Crew 2 players the opportunity to get meaningful competition at a regional and national level,” said Lock. “Kelvin Jones and his staff have done a wonderful job to develop the players individually and collectively and advance the group to the National Finals.”
Up next is the UPSL National Finals, which occur Feb. 2-4 in Irvine, California. The Crew was the first team to advance this far and will be joined in the final four by Foro SC, Chiriaco FC, and St Louis CITY SC. The Crew Academy UPSL squad will face St. Louis CITY SC Academy on Friday, Feb. 2 at 8:30 p.m. ET. The winner will qualify for the National Finals match, slated to take place on Feb. 4 at 6:30 p.m. ET., while the third place match is scheduled for 3:00 p.m. ET.
2024 Crew Academy Preview
Yes, winter breaks aren’t just for school – Academy players get them, too.
The U-17 and U-15 sides, while obviously different teams, will play similar opponents once things get going again next month.
Both groups will play their first matches of 2024 on Jan. 27 at home against the Michigan Jaguars, two months after their last respective MLS NEXT league games – Nov. 19 at Minnesota United.
Beginning with the 2024 opener, the U-17s and U-15s will play their first five league games at home, including a rivalry matchup with FC Cincinnati on Feb. 24. All told, there will be 14 league games between Jan. 27 and the finale on May 26 vs Austin FC. Two other matchups that fans might be interested in are a home meeting against Chicago Fire FC on Apr. 27 and St. Louis CITY SC on May 18.
Don’t forget that all home games are played at Historic Crew Stadium.
Additionally, the GA Cup is just around the corner in late March. Consider MLS NEXT Fest the appetizer to the main course – and the biggest youth soccer event. Between March 30 – April 7, teams will compete at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida to crown the top Academy clubs in the country.