Former Portland Timbers coach Caleb Porter was hired by the Columbus Crew ahead of the 2019 season and named Tim Bezbatchenko as president.
The moves come with a new ownership group led by Cleveland Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam in line to take over and plans in the works for a new downtown stadium.
“We are thrilled to have secured Tim Bezbatchenko and Caleb Porter to lead Columbus Crew SC,” said The Crew SC investor-operator group. “Tim’s track record in building a successful team, including an MLS Cup in 2017, along with his experience on both the league-side and club-side of Major League Soccer make him uniquely qualified to serve as president and provides strong leadership.
“Caleb has been a proven winner every place he has coached and like Tim won an MLS Cup in 2015. He has a deep understanding of how to build formidable and successful programs and is well respected for his soccer acumen and development of players. With Tim and Caleb sharing some Ohio roots, we feel they are the perfect fit as we move into a new era of Crew soccer.”
The 43-year-old Porter was head coach of the Portland Timbers from 2013-17, finishing there with a 68-50-52 record and on one MLS Cup crown. Previously, he was head soccer coach at the University of Akron from 2006-12, where he led the team to the 2010 NCAA championship.
The 37-year-old Bezbatchenko, who was born in Westerville, Ohio, was Toronto FC’s vice president of soccer operations and general manager from 2013-18, a tenure that coincided with a pair of MLS Cup appearances in 2016 and 2017.
The Major League Soccer team was at risk of being moved to Austin, Texas, by its present owners Precourt Sports Ventures before the local group stepped in. Perhaps because of the uncertainty, Major League Soccer says the Crew drew an average of 12,447 fans per game and 211,603 fans total last season; compared to 15,439 per game and 262,469 total in 2017.
The Crew opens the season March 2 against 2018 Supporters’ Shield winners New York Red Bulls.
Crew plans to start stadium construction this summer
By Mitch Stacy
AP Sports Writer
Wednesday, January 9
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Columbus Crew has new owners and management, and the team plans a summer groundbreaking for a $230 million downtown stadium.
The Save the Crew movement gained momentum last year after the team owner, Precourt Sports Ventures, announced plans to move the franchise to Austin, Texas.
The incoming ownership group includes Cleveland Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam, and former Crew team physician Peter Edwards, whose family owns a Columbus-based development/construction business.
“We think this about soccer. We think this about a team, but it really isn’t,” Edwards said Wednesday as new owners and management were introduced. “It’s about a community. It’s about having pride in our city, and it’s about having pride in our team. All those things roll into the fabric of our community. For us to not have this team here would have left a hole in our city, and my family said that wasn’t acceptable, and we were going to do whatever we could to figure out a way to keep this team.”
Caleb Porter, who won an MLS Cup in 2015 with the Portland, was hired as coach to replace Gregg Berhalter, who left to coach the U.S. national team. Porter said local enthusiasm for the team drew him to the job.
“When I saw all of you in this community rallying behind this club, that’s the type of club I want to manage, a club that’s relevant, a club that the people are proud of, a club where they’re going to fight and roll up their sleeves to save it,” Porter said. “I felt compelled to come back and jump on board with that movement to save the Crew — but not just save it but elevate it.”
The new stadium will be near Nationwide Arena, home of the Columbus Blue Jackets, and Huntington Park, where the Triple-A Columbus Clippers play. The plan also calls for redevelopment of the team’s 20-year-old stadium north of downtown into a training facility and community sports park.
“One of the things we have to get going on is — because we want to break ground really quickly on the stadium — is doing the whole, entire comprehensive plan,” Dee Haslam said. “We’ve done this so fast. I don’t know that anyone has ever put a concept together (this fast), and we hope to be in the ground this summer for sure in order to make deadline. I think we’re going as fast as we can go.”
Haslam promised a winning team.
“It’s a big investment,” she said. “We’re committed to winning. It’s so important to win for a community. We obviously have experienced not winning (with the Browns), so winning is so important. We get that message loud and clear.”
Information for this story was obtained from AP, Columbus Business First and ESPN.
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