It would be a mistake to assume that the Columbus Crew's academy isn’t producing just because the club hasn’t yet signed a Home Grown player.
Since the program’s creation back in 2006, the academy has evolved — slowly and steadily — into one of the top soccer clubs in Ohio. Several of its standouts have gone on to play at a collegiate level, and it’s only a matter of time before some make their way onto the Crew first team.
One of the key figures in that rise is Crew technical director Brian Bliss (pictured above), who joined the club back in January 2008. As part of his role, he helped develop a youth curriculum for use across different levels.
Along with the U-16 and U-18 Development Academy teams, the Crew maintain teams from U-12 all the way through U-20, and also operate a number of girls’ teams in the area, too.
“We pretty much have what I would call a full service youth organization – we cover boys and girls,” Bliss told MLSsoccer.com.
In his time, Bliss has noticed improvement throughout the academy.
“When our teams first started off, we were getting players that were released from other teams or other clubs and they would come join our club, and then over a couple years we proved in our market that we have the facilities, resources and commitment from the coaches that we hired to try and move the game forward,” he said.
“We’ve been able to add quality, increase the level of play, and are now almost on a level playing field, if not excelling, beyond those clubs that have done historically well here.”
By earning respect in the Ohio soccer scene, there’s also been dramatic growth in the academy's regional influence. There are a number of club affiliates throughout the state, including the Crew Juniors Gold and Worthington Crew Juniors. In 2007, a regional affiliate was also set up in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
[inline_node:328796]Bliss said plenty of talented players throughout the academy and its affiliates garner consideration for Home Grown contracts, but many choose the college route and educational benefits that come with it.
“These kids are under a little bit different circumstances when it comes to education and what the expectations are,” he said. “We do believe we’ve got some guys that we could sign tomorrow. It’s just the matter of the timing of it and their education as well.”
The Crew’s Development Academy has sent some talented players off to top programs, including five to nearby Akron (the Zips’ campus is a little more than a two hour drive from Columbus).
Because of the proximity, Bliss said that a member of the Crew’s coaching staff attended nearly every Akron home game last fall. Two more prized recruits, Will Trapp and Kyle Culbertson, will also play there this fall.
“[Trapp] was one of the highest recruited guys in the country in the last two years,” Bliss said. “When he made this decision to go to Akron we were happy because we know what type of program he’s going into with Caleb Porter, which is a college setting but pro environment.”