While the hiring of former U.S. Men's National Team striker Josh Wolff as an Assistant Coach to Crew Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter's staff stole the headlines on Wednesday, Berhalter's selection of Asher Mendelsohn as Director of Soccer Operations may have flown under the radar of some.
Mendelsohn comes to the Crew following nine years with the U.S. Soccer Federation in which his responsibilities ranged from overseeing the U.S. Soccer Development Academy in its infancy to managing referee operations. In a relationship that has developed since their first meeting at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, Berhalter was drawn to Mendelsohn's vision and drive for changing the soccer landscape around the country.
"Asher is a bright guy," the Sporting Director and Head Coach said. "He's organized a lot of participants with U.S. Soccer in terms of getting the Academy going, dealing with referees at a high level and overall evaluating the soccer landscape in the U.S. -- that was important to me."
In his new role as Director of Soccer Operations, Mendelsohn will help Berhalter manage roster decisions pertaining to League rules and the salary cap, as well as developing and implementing the Crew's technical vision from the youth side to the First Team. The Brown graduate's involvement with the USSDA will be an advantage in continuing to develop an already strong Crew Youth system.
"I give a lot of credit to [Crew Juniors Executive Director] Andrew Arthurs and [Director of Coaching] Billy Thompson, they've done a really nice job with putting the youth program together," Mendelsohn said over the phone Thursday. "Our conversations have been about how we help that group continue to grow and continue to push them to make players and hopefully make even better players.
"That's not to take anything away from what's been done, but like anything within the Crew organization as Gregg and I look at it, it's how do we push the envelope and make this the best franchise in the League."
Added Berhalter: "[Mendelsohn's Academy experience] gave him the ability to look at this large group and get it sorted out, and that's part of what attracted me to that. I would say that him and myself will be working closely with Andrew [Arthurs] to support them and make them the best they can be. We want to continue on with that.
Though Mendelsohn's experiences with the U.S. Soccer Federation did not include roster management, he is not fazed by assisting Berhalter with player acquisition and the salary cap.
"When you look at the areas I'm going to be working on with Gregg, [roster rules] is the area I have the least experience in right now," the new Director of Soccer Operations admitted. "I'm very familiar with the League, the people at the League office and how the League functions. In terms of the roster rules, it's something that Gregg and I had the opportunity to sit down with League officials this week and go through.
He continued: "There's kind of a mythology that the League is very complicated and that it's a huge challenge for the people running the teams. After spending time with the League, they actually put down a pretty clear system of what they're trying to do. I think the real challenge is how do we compete in an international marketplace to acquire players. When MLS teams don't have the same resources as a Manchester United or a Chelsea or Real Madrid to import whoever they want. We have to be smarter about that. We have to work a little bit harder."
As the Waiver Draft, Re-Entry Draft, the MLS SuperDraft and the free agent signing period quickly approach, Mendelsohn's first objective with Berhalter is to build the Crew's roster for 2014. Like Berhalter, Mendelsohn believes the Black & Gold are only a couple pieces away from being a contender next season.
"The first job, and Gregg as outlined this, is to focus on the First Team and to focus on the roster," he explained. "There's a lot of really good pieces in place and we aren't far off from getting from where we want to get to. The challenge is the timing of when Gregg, Josh [Wolff] and I are coming in. The team has already finished practicing. We've all had a chance to watch the team on tape, but it's not the same of knowing the personalities in the locker room and seeing training and figuring out the exact pieces we need.
"Gregg made it a priority to reach out to the players and get a better sense of them and what they hope to accomplish next year. It's just a matter of figuring out the couple of pieces that we're missing and then what's the best way to go about getting those pieces."
Like Berhalter, it was the community of Columbus and the ambition of Owner-Operator and Chairman Anthony Precourt that sealed the deal of bringing Mendelsohn to the Crew. Mendelsohn experienced the community first hand organizing fan events during the U.S. National Team's 2014 FIFA World Cup Qualifier against Mexico in Columbus last September.
"It comes down to the people," he said. "It's the people within the organization. It starts with Mr. Precourt and the vision he's outlined for the organization to create a consistent winner that's built through a process and connected to the community. It goes down to Gregg who is someone I know and trust and have faith that he'll do a great job in this role. And I'll help him to achieve that. It trickles down the organization and outside the organization.
He added: "[The fan events surrounding USA-Mexico] gave me a really good exposure to the people of Columbus and I was really impressed. I think there's a great sense of community and I can tell the people of Columbus take a lot of pride in what they do.
"There's a real respect for craftsmanship and the process, but it's not at the sacrifice of being good people and contributing members of the community."