The youth movement in Columbus continued Wednesday, when the Crew announced the signing of homegrown players Ross Friedman and Matt Walker. Friedman and Walker join Matt Wiet as Homegrown signings this offseason, bringing the Crew's Homegrown count to seven players.
But despite the average age of the team lowering once again, Head Coach and Sporting Director Gregg Berhalter said the team is far from a youth squad.
“When we have quality Homegrown Players, we want to sign them,” Berhalter told MLSsoccer.com Wednesday. “It's a good sign for our Academy, it's a good tribute to what they're doing that we've been signing Homegrowns, but by no means are we saying that we want a U-25 team. We're looking for a good, strong roster.”
Versatility was the theme of the day for the pair of signings, and both players will have a plethora of areas to find a spot on the Crew roster. Friedman played extensively at rightback while attending Harvard, but can play in the midfield as well, especially on the right, and Berhalter noted his attitude as a key in his game.
“He's proven in college that he has a very good work rate, very good stamina,” Berhalter said. “We're anxious to see how he's going to stack up against the first team guys.”
When describing his own game, even Friedman focused on his willingness to work for the team.
“I value being a tenacious player, being all-in when I'm doing something,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “From the first to 90th minute, I want to be completely focused on my game and to constantly be working on my approach to the game.”
Up the pitch, Walker represents a more offensive-minded game, though after playing as an attacking midfielder for Xavier, he says he feels comfortable anywhere from the wing to the middle of the park.
“Through my college career, I was more of a goalscorer, but I like to get up and down the flank,” Walker told MLSsoccer.com. “I can see myself out wide, I can see myself in the middle. I play well in tight spaces, and I do well in combination with others.”
Walker was a player who Berhalter liked at the Crew's college combine, and the Columbus boss said he looks forward to finding out whether Walker's skills will challenge MLS pros.
“He's very dynamic; he's a player who can beat players on the dribble,” Berhalter said. “He can turn very well, he can go at guys, he can cut behind, and again the challenge for him is, can he do all of those things at the next level?”
With the MLS Superdraft just over a week away, Crew fans shouldn't expect the youth influx to stop any time soon.
“We feel like we've already gotten decent draft picks with these guys,” Berhatler said. “These guys would probably have been drafted in the draft after the combine (in Columbus). But we're not finished, we want to move forward in the draft and add some more people who can help us immediately.”