With the signings of Homegrown Players Ross Friedman and Matt Walker on Wednesday, the Crew furthered its stamp on the state of Ohio with nine players now on the current roster hailing from the Buckeye State. The Black & Gold also share the League lead with FC Dallas with seven players on the current roster to graduate from the Crew Soccer Academy system.
“I think these signings are a tribute to our youth development system and the type of players this club and this region are capable of producing,” Crew Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter said in the official press release.
For Friedman and Walker, the dream of one day playing for the club they grew up supporting was finally realized after impressing coaches through years of playing in the Crew Soccer Academy.
"This is everything," Freidman said. "I've been a fan since I was young. I dressed up as a Crew player for Halloween when I was young. Being part of the development program has been great and they invested so much in me. This is a dream come true to be able to play for the first team."
Added Walker, "Since the day I joined the Academy at 16, this is a day that I've been looking forward to. I love the club and I've been to countless game, it's just really exciting for me to be able to put the jersey on."
The duo joins defender Matt Wiet, who signed with the club in December, in the Crew's 2014 Homegrown class, the Crew's largest ever. Having seen Homegrowns Chad Barson, Matt Lampson, Ben Speas and Wil Trapp emerge as first team regulars in 2013 is an inspiration to the Black & Gold's latest signings.
"The Crew has done a great job at producing a lot of high-end talent," Wiet complimented his club. "You can go across the country and just look at the players at the college level and just see what they're doing. To be able to get to play with some of the players that are already on Columbus' roster: Wil, Chad, Matt Lampson and everyone that's been a Homegrown so far has just shown what Columbus has done to raise them and make sure they're at the top level by the time they graduate college."
Though the Crew has signed products from the Columbus area like Trapp and Lampson and Northern Ohio native Speas, Walker is the first Homegrown signing to come from Southern Ohio. The Cincinnati native hopes to lead the way for the Queen City.
"It feels pretty good [to be the first signing from the Cincinnati area]," he admitted. "I had a lot of friends and people who were following me, knowing what I wanted to do. It's encouraging and I think there will be more. There are some good players down there.
"It's nice to know that the Crew is getting players consistently from the state of Ohio. People are paying attention. The development here is fantastic from Cincinnati up to Cleveland. It all starts here in Columbus, it's what everyone strives for."
While Freidman was finishing his finals at Harvard, the Crew technical staff was able observe Walker at the club's college combine last month.
"Matt was there and he showed glimpses of why he's that highly rated," Berhalter said. "I think the combine was definitely a good opportunity to showcase his talents in front of us."
On the larger scale, Wednesday's signings put the Crew roster at 27 men ahead of next week's MLS SuperDraft in Philadelphia. Stay tuned to TheCrew.com for exclusive coverage from the event.