With his depth chart sorted following the Crew's preseason and a 3-0 win against D.C. United to open the 2014 regular season, Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter has elected to loan five players to the Black & Gold's USL-PRO affiliate, the Dayton Dutch Lions.
Ryan Finley, Kevan George and Brad Stuver will join Homegrown rookies Ross Friedman and Matt Walker in Dayton to get match experience that they would be unable to get otherwise with the Black & Gold. Stuver will continue training with the Crew while playing with the Dutch Lions.
"We're excited about this affiliation and we're excited that we have an arena where we can really push our players and help develop our players," Berhalter said. "We felt that in the past, players weren't getting quality games that they had to perform in to really help their development.
"We see this as a great instrument to further develop our players and help our First Team."
Unlike some MLS-USL-PRO affiliations, the 45-minute drive between Columbus and Dayton provides the Crew technical staff an opportunity to monitor players on loan. The Houston Dynamo, for example, is affiliated with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. A member of Berhalter's staff will make the short drive to Dayton each week to observe training sessions and matches.
In addition, the Dutch Lions have welcomed Berhalter's input in technical direction.
"Logistics are going to make this thing easy," Berhalter explained. "Obviously the proximity helps. We'll be able to go [to Dayton] and watch home games on a regular basis, but it's also communication. Their coaching staff has been great in terms of how we work with them. That's a positive. The management has been very accommodating to some of our requests. Overall, it's going to be a good partnership."
This season, 10 MLS clubs have USL-PRO affiliates, raising the overall quality of the United States' Third Division. Berhalter feels the competition will be beneficial to the Crew's players on loan.
"USL-PRO is difficult competition," he admitted. "We saw that first-hand when we played Orlando City. There are some good players in that league, good teams. We feel these are the types of games our players need. The end goal [in USL-PRO, like MLS] is to win. We want to put a competitive team on the field and we're confident that with our help and the additions Dayton has already brought in that it will be a good thing."
In the end, Berhalter hopes the increased playing time will build his players' confidence will with the Dutch Lions.
"In different positions, you're required different things," he said. "I think strikers and goalkeepers, it could be just about confidence. The potential is there, but as soon as they have a breakthrough and have that confidence, you never know what can happen.
"We're looking forward to seeing the effects this can have on our players."