Wilfried Nancy’s tenure is certainly off to a solid start. The Columbus Crew is sitting in a playoff position, plays an exciting brand of soccer, and has the best attack in MLS. Nice.
Coinciding with Nancy joining the club in January 2023, the Crew have embarked on a "One Club" directive, to further strengthen the connection throughout the club relating to Player Development. This includes new programming, aligned playing style, and methodology.
We’ve all seen Aidan Morris, Patrick Schulte, Jacen Russell-Rowe and Sean Zawadzki deliver massive moments this season, and that should continue as we inch closer to the postseason.
But they’re just the latest set of players to highlight the Crew’s youth development pathway. With the First Team off this week during the international break, let’s take a look at what’s happening with the Crew Academy – the Black & Gold players of the future.
Academy staff grows with new appointments
First things first, there are new members of the Crew Academy staff and familiar faces in new roles.
Dan Lock shifts from his previous role as Head of Coaching/Individual Development to become the Club’s Director of Player Development. He joined the Crew in 2022 and prior spent four years with Seattle Sounders and two and half years with Charlotte FC. In his new role, Dan’s focus is to lead and oversee the Academy as well as the Player Development Pathway from the Academy to Crew 2 and the First Team, including developing and connecting the Club’s playing style and principles.
Kelvin Jones has transitioned away from the role of Academy Director for the Columbus Crew and now holds the titles of UPSL Head Coach/Crew 2 Assistant Coach as well as Assistant Director of Player Development. This shift allows Kelvin to return to his passion for coaching and provides the Club a valuable connection in the efforts to elevate Academy players into the MLS NEXT Pro environment. Kelvin joined the Crew in 2018 from the Virginia Legacy Soccer Club in Williamsburg, VA.
Crew Academy now has a data and performance coach with Eric Dutt entering the role after joining the Club in 2020 as the U15 Coach. The addition of this role to the Academy ecosystem provides the players and teams with individualized video and data feedback.
Shahad Farahani is the Crew’s new Under-15 Head Coach, joining the Club this month after serving as the Houston Dynamo Academy’s Under-14 Head Coach, while former Crew player and Columbus native Saad Abdul-Salaam is an assistant for the Under-14 and Under-11 sides. Abdul-Salaam played for the Black & Gold in 2021. Eddie Hertsenberg has been with the Club since 2021 and now serves as the Under-15 and Under-17 Assistant Coach, while the UPSL side will add Jorge Gonzalez later this month as the Assistant Coach and Performance Coach.
Erik Alves (Academy Scouting and Recruiting Manager), Rafael Calderon (Head Academy Scout), Nathan Cotton (Academy Scout), and Callum Morris (Academy Scout and Lead Coach of the Under-11/12 team) are also growing the Academy’s scouting team. Each of these appointments bolster the Crew’s opportunities to develop players into future professionals.
"With the support of ownership, Tim Bezbatchenko, and Marc Nicholls, we've been able to further increase the investment in our Academy infrastructure and staffing.” said Lock. “This will enable us to provide an increased level of individualized and collective development for our players, and further strengthen the pathway from the Academy through to Crew 2 and our First Team. I'm excited to see the continued growth of our programing for the 2023-2024 season and how that will impact player development in our club, and also our region."
U19 Team joins UPSL
Hot off the press, on Wednesday, it was announced that the Crew is the latest club to participate in the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL). The newly formed UPSL team will compete in the Ohio Conference.
"Our Club is dedicated to player development at all levels of competition, and joining UPSL will provide us with another avenue to invest in our players and their futures,” Lock said. “This league offers our older Academy players an ability to compete in a high-level environment and better understand the demands of what it takes to be a professional as they prepare for future opportunities.”
Upcoming Events and Billet Program
One of the main events for the Crew Academy takes place in September and occurs outside the white lines. Later this month, the Crew will host Signing Night, when the players have the opportunity for friends and family to join the athletes at the facility to celebrate the players’ achievements through joining the Crew Academy and to also recognize the dedication and commitment of the athletes.
It’s a massive event for each player and their families, but it’s also a special night for the Club. While the player pathway and soccer development are important, what comes first is helping develop great human beings that embody the club’s culture on and off the field. Nancy always mentioned treating people as individuals, and Signing Night embodies that.
Additionally, the Billet Homestay Program is vital for the club, and Black & Gold supporters play a critical role. Imagine your family housing and taking care of the next great Crew player? That’s possible.
Families who qualify can help provide a home for Crew Academy players, which helps the club recruit elite players from outside of Central Ohio and across the U.S. Aidan Morris, who bosses the Crew midfield and has four caps for USMNT, came through the Billet Program.
“Because of the generosity of Black & Gold families, the program has expanded to include 19 kids,” Lock said. “There aren’t enough adjectives to describe the humility and generosity of these families who help raise Crew Academy players. They not only become family members of our players, but also our whole Academy community.”
More information about the Billet Program is available, as well as a registration form.
What Crew fans should know
In addition to the formation of a UPSL squad, the U15 and U17 teams will continue playing in MLS NEXT and the Generation adidas Cup. While the next cup won’t be until next Spring, the MLS NEXT league matches are just getting underway.
Two members of the U15 side also play for the U.S. U15 National Team and are Concacaf champs(!): Isaac Tortola and Chase Adams.
Tortola is a midfielder, while Adams is a forward. Both were part of the national team’s 2023 Concacaf Boys’ U-15 Championship roster that eventually won the tournament. The duo was on the scoresheet in a convincing semifinal win over Guatemala, while Adams had a brace in a 4-2 win over Mexico in the championship.
As for Crew 2, a trio of Crew Academy 17-year-olds recently turned Crew 2 signings have made quite an impression on the reigning MLS NEXT Pro champs.
Taha Habroune is a forward who’s made 16 appearances this season, including 10 starts. He has three goals and three assists, and he’s currently playing for the U.S. U-17 National Team for the Ježek Cup in the Czech Republic.
One more thing to note about Habroune: If his name sounds familiar, that’s because he played for the Crew First Team earlier this season. The teenager made his debut on May 24 in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC.
Goalkeeper Stas Lapkes made his professional debut and earned the shutout in a 3-0 victory over New England Revolution II on April 16, 2023. He has started in a total of 11 games thus far this season, tallying 35 saves en route to three clean sheets. Lapkes notched a career-high seven saves against Huntsville City FC on May 5, 2022.
Cole Mrowka is a midfielder who’s already logged 23 appearances this season, including 14 starts. With one goal and five assists, Mrowka has been an integral part of the Capybaras midfield to this point.
These three aren’t the only Crew Academy talents to have an impact on the professional level with Crew 2. Additional Academy players who have made their Capybara debut this season are Gio De Libera, Chris Rogers, Brent Adu-Gyamfi, Owen Presthus, and Mohamed Saad.
Heck is Plausible
Hey, remember when the Crew battered FC Cincinnati earlier this summer? Let’s hope that happens again this weekend. Hell is Real was great, but so is Heck is Plausible – a family-friendly take on the rivalry with our southern friends.
On Saturday, September 9, the U15 and U17 teams will be in Cincinnati at the Mercy Health Training Center as they face FCC. Let’s hope the bragging rights stay with the Black & Gold – just like for every other team we field against Cincinnati.
For more information about the Crew Academy’s schedules and results for this upcoming season, visit @crewacademy96 on Instagram and Twitter or learn more about the Academy here.
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