Situated directly within a hotbed of soccer talent, the Crew technical staff hopes to get a feel for the top college players in the Midwest at its player combine on Saturday. Though Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter had the chance to take in Big Ten and NCAA Tournament matches, he and his staff now have the chance to properly observe the Midwest's talent at its own combine.
"We haven't had an opportunity to do a lot of scouting, our staff has been in place for only a short period of time," Crew Director of Soccer Operations Asher Mendelsohn explained. "For me specifically, I'm very familiar with what the youth development and player development landscape looks like from my time with U.S. Soccer.
"College is a big part of that landscape," Mendelsohn continued. "Working with a lot of the youth programs, I've gotten to know a lot of college coaches really well. Doing a very quick analysis of where players who are successful in MLS are coming from, you realize that there is a high concentration of players coming from our region, coming from colleges surrounding the Columbus area."
The Midwest's colleges have arguably produced a greater number of Major League Soccer's top players in recent years in comparison to other talent factories in the Mid-Atlantic and in California. The past two MLS Rookies of the Year, Dillon Powers (2013, Colorado Rapids / Notre Dame) and Austin Berry (2012, Chicago Fire / Louisville) have come from Midwest universities. In addition, the region has produced top young talents such as the Crew's Wil Trapp (Akron), the Portland Timbers' Darlington Nagbe (Akron), New England Revolution's Andrew Farrell (Louisville) and Houston Dynamo's Will Bruin (Indiana).
Growing the relationship with the region's colleges will be beneficial for both the Crew and the universities' coaches, said Mendelsohn.
"The goal is how we grow those relationships with those colleges so it not only benefits the Crew First Team, it benefits colleges by connecting our youth programming into some of their interests. This platform is based on things we've been doing at U.S. Soccer for years."
He continued: "It really accomplishes two objectives: it gives us an opportunity to see SuperDraft-eligible players -- not only on the field, but off the field -- who are from our region and get to know them better. Most of these guys will be down at the MLS Combine [in January] as well, but it gives us more personal contact with them. The second reason is that it gives us more contact with their coaches, who are people we want to work closely with going forward."
The technical staff used several different components to decide which players from the Midwest to invite. While inviting a few former U.S. Youth National Team players, Mendelsohn is also hoping to find a few hidden gems ahead of the MLS SuperDraft in January.
"In terms of the quality of the [invited] players, we tried to cut the landscape of potential players in a number of different ways to try to have the best players in the region here, but also have some guys that might be sleepers come here and give us a chance to see them as well," he said. "Our process was to look at players who've won awards in college. We looked at guys who had Youth National Team experience. We looked at who's made contributions over the course of their college career -- whether it's minutes played, goals, or assists -- we looked at just basic data and then we just talked to people. We talked to college coaches: we didn't just ask who they recommended from their team, but who they played against.
"We were able to look at all these different data sources and tried to invite the players we felt would best fit into our system and how we hope to play."
A few of the Crew's Homegrown-eligible players will also be in attendance at the combine, offering the technical staff a first look at a few of the Crew Soccer Academy's alumni in action.
"[Homegrown Players] are another reason why we're doing this," Mendelsohn said. "We do have a timeline coming up to make decisions on Homegrowns. For draft-eligible guys, it's an opportunity to get a closer look at them as well."
The combine takes place on Saturday, December 14 at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on the campus of The Ohio State University. The event will not be open to the public or media.