Nearly every year, the Crew returns to Bradenton, Fla. for preseason training. For some, the annual trip is a homecoming of sorts.
Bradenton is home to the United States U-17 National Team Residency program, where the nation's best teenagers are invited yearly to take part in an intense training regimen while continuing their high school education. Current Crew players Chad Marshall, Tyson Wahl, Eddie Gaven, Ben Speas, Chad Barson, Aaron Horton and Ryan Finley are all products of the U-17 Residency program.
"I lived here for two years, between the ages of 14 and 16," Gaven said. "We come down here almost every year for preseason, so it's nice to play on these fields again, enjoy the nice weather and see some old faces around as well."
"There is a sense of familiarity with the area and the facilities, and just IMG and Bradenton in general," Barson added.
Gaven spent the most time in Bradenton, three semesters, before turning pro at age 16 in 2003. The now 26-year-old credits the training he received during his time in the Residency program with the success he's had in his 10 year MLS career.
"[Residency] helped me a lot, just being down here every single day with the best players in the U.S. and training day-in and day-out is only going to make you better," Gaven explained. "I'm very thankful for the opportunity I had and I think it was definitely a big part of why I was able to enter the League at the age I did and be in the League as long as I have."
Barson, the Crew's most recent Homegrown signing, spent one semester in Bradenton with the U.S. U-17s and says the training environment in Residency is second to none.
"The mentality that they teach you every day in training: you're here to play soccer, learn the game and grow," Barson said. "You're submersing yourself in the culture of American soccer."
Currently, four Crew Soccer Academy player are enrolled in the U.S. U-17 Residency program. Forward Ahinga Selemani (CSA Wolves), midfielder Ben Swanson, forward Nate Kohl and goalkeeper Carter Richardson have all recently moved to Bradenton to follow their soccer dreams.
The Crew will scrimmage the U.S. U-17 National Team on Wednesday following the Black & Gold's friendly against the Chicago Fire.