Now that it has been officially announced that the Crew will be staying put in their rightful home of Columbus, Ohio, the next order of business is filling the head coach and general manager positions. It is widely known, though not yet official, that former Portland Timbers head coach, Caleb Porter, will be manning the sidelines for the Crew this upcoming season. The Crew out offered western conference powerhouse, LA Galaxy, with a reported 5-year, $5 million deal. A big bold move by the Crew.
As for the general manager spot, three marquee names have reportedly been interviewed…
The first reported candidate was longtime LA Galaxy, DC United, and USMNT head coach, Bruce Arena. As to not rehash his litany of accomplishments, check out my article from earlier this month to read all about his exemplary career. While yes, Columbus and LA are on two distinctly different sides of the financial spectrum, few people know how to manage the ever-changing roster guidelines of MLS than “The Bruce”. The Galaxy are infamous for their high-profile signings (ever heard of David Beckham??) they also invested heavily in player development, which produced solid MLS players along the way. One of which just so happens to be on the current Columbus Crew roster, Gyasi Zardes.
As head coach and general manager of LA Galaxy from 2008 to 2016, Bruce built his second MLS dynasty (his first was with DC United). He is a proven winner and has the soccer acumen to precisely navigate the murky personnel waters of Major League Soccer. The superstars of his LA teams garnered the headlines, but the grunt work of players like, Juninho, Baggio Husidic, Stefan Ishizaki, Alan Gordon, Todd Dunivant, etc. are what made the teams complete and led them to winning 3 MLS Cups.
Infamous for “The Plan”, Ali Curtis took over the New York Red Bulls in 2014, complete with a 300-page document that outlined his long-term vision for building an MLS powerhouse. After taking over, he immediately replaced wildly popular head coach Mike Petke with Jesse Marsch. While such a move drew strong criticism from fans, he was vindicated in 2015 when the Red Bulls won the MLS Supporters Shield. Curtis has been out of the league since he and RBNY parted ways just prior to the 2017 season.
Contrary to popular belief, RBNY is not and has not been a “big money team” in several years, thus Columbus is more of a fit than people think. New York’s departure from the big market, big money spending can be directly tied to Curtis. His 300-page plan consisted of cutting the team payroll, instead focusing resources on developing the pipeline from the RBNY academy to the senior team. He also pushed to overhaul the team system and schematics, by implementing a high-pressure smothering defense and quick counter-attacking offense. This identity was successfully executed from the youth teams, all the way through to the first-division team.
He also implemented the club's reserve team, New York Red Bulls II (also known as “the Baby Bulls), which compete in United Soccer League. The Baby Bulls went on to win the USL title in 2016, with budding superstars, Tyler Adams, Aaron Long, Alex Muyl and Sean Davis, all whom developed through the academy system, before ascending to the first-team.
Tim Bezbatchenko (nicknamed Bez) is still young in age but possesses extensive experience. He has been serving in the league since 2010, where he spent three years as the league Senior Director of Player Relations & Competition. In that role, he negotiated and drafted player contracts and finalized loan and transfer agreements. Bez is a central Ohio native, who has shown well on the biggest stage in MLS. He is currently senior vice president and general manager of Toronto FC. According to The Columbus Dispatch, Bez is the current front runner to named GM of the Crew.
Since taking the reins in 2013, Bez has overseen the acquisition of essentially every player on the current TFC roster. From former MLS MVP, Sebastian Giovinco, to USMNT staples, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, to league stalwarts Drew Moor and Justin Morrow. Toronto has been a massive success on and off the field during his run. He was integral in building the team that made the MLS Cup final in 2016 and won the league in 2017. His pedigree is tremendous and local ties to the central Ohio area are peerless.
The Final Countdown
Any of the three aforementioned candidates being announced as general manager would be a big coup for the new ownership group, the fans, and the club. Each one has a history of success, all have a strong understanding of the leagues interworkings, yet each still have something left to prove. Of the three, which would work best with a tough-minded coach like Caleb Porter?
Arena and Porter had their jousts while in the heat of battle during their days of managing the LA Galaxy and Portland Timbers, respectively. Though I don’t fathom such feelings continue to linger today. Curtis is very stringent and particular with how he governs a club. I am not so sure Porter’s mentality gels well with such a managerial style. That is merely my opinion from afar, so take it with a grain of salt.
That leaves Bez! And if The Dispatch is accurate with it’s reporting, the Bez / Porter duo does sound quite appealing. I don’t know if it is just the excitement of two young guns potentially working together for the foreseeable future that gets me going, but I truly believe a Bez / Porter partnership could lead to a small market club making big ripples in the MLS pool. That is my hope, but truth be told, the Crew can’t go wrong with any of these three distinguished men. Only time will tell. Go Crew!