When Gregg Berhalter and the Crew SC brass were deliberating their USL PRO affiliation for the 2015 season, preliminary talks made it clear: the Austin Aztex were the perfect match.
Austin, an expansion club in USL PRO for 2015, had a highly successful run in the USL's Premier Development League. The club went a combined 31-7-6 in regular season play since their inaugural 2012 season, appearing in the Southern Conference championship game every season. In 2013, the club was PDL Champions and set attendance records.
"There's a lot of alignment when you talk about ownership and the technical side of the organization," said Berhalter on the relationship with Austin. "It was a really good fit. In those initial conversations, that's what was discovered: this is an organization that matches up well with our organization."
Berhalter said that the ownership group and the coaches for Austin share the same drive as Crew SC has: to become an elite club in their league.
"It's the vision. It's the vision of where these clubs want to be in five years, 10 years. They're closely aligned in terms of being successful clubs in their given leagues."
Over time, the two organizations hope to become even more in sync. Berhalter stressed that the technical staff, led by Aztex Head Coach Paul Dalglish, "sees the game in a very similar way" and said that having Austin play a similar style to Crew SC is something that's in development.
Speaking of Dalglish, if the name seems familiar, you're not wrong: the Aztex boss is the son of former Liverpool player and manager Kenny Dalglish. Paul spent 2014 as an assistant at Real Salt Lake and possesses an illustrious playing background, including stops at multiple English clubs and the Houston Dynamo.
"[Paul] is very good with offensive coaching and I think he has similar values of how he wants to see the game being played," said Berhalter. "That's going to help our guys that we send there. That's going to be the big benefit."
The main benefit, of course, of a USL PRO affiliation is the match experience garned for MLS loanees. That's something that players consistently say cannot be replicated in training. Aaron Schoenfeld and Kevan George were the two main beneficiaries of that this season, coming from Dayton to make contributions in Columbus down the stretch of the 2014 campaign.
"The match rhythm is extremely important as is getting that experience in real games," said the Crew SC boss. "More importantly, though, we think that this is a team that's going to be competing for a championship. Putting our guys in situations where they have to perform and they want to win is very important."
Continued Berhalter: "It's a perfect platform for guys to perform. It's a level where it's difficult. To perform there and to be excelling at that level means you can come back and play in MLS."
Berhalter anticipates no difficulty in the distance between Columbus and Austin, citing the easy availability of video and the terrific relationship in place between his staff and Austin's. Today's announcement is nothing but another positive development for Crew SC, an asset in place as the club sets its sights on 2015.
"USL PRO has engaged leadership and they want to expand the league. They want to create that excitement around USL PRO. MLS is leading the charge in a lot of that in terms of creating second teams and giving young players a platform on which to perform. I think that's extremely important."