With Friday’s announcement of Caleb Porter as Columbus Crew SC’s head coach and Tim Bezbatchenko as the Club’s President, the Ohio ties of Major League Soccer’s first charter member now touch four layers of the organization – from its Homegrown Players up the ladder to the technical staff and Front Office on to the Investor-Operator group – and in the process, reconnecting a sense of familiarity with personnel and the supporters.
From player personnel to coaching staff, Porter returns to the Midwest after his tenure with the Portland Timbers and a seven-year coaching stint as the head men’s soccer coach at the University of Akron. Porter’s Midwest exposure goes beyond the coaching realm into life as an Indiana University student-athlete (and eventually assistant coach) under the tutelage of esteemed college soccer coach Jerry Yeagley, father of former Crew SC player and current IU head coach Todd Yeagley, who is also a former teammate of Porter’s during their time in Bloomington, Ind.
Notably, midfielder Justin Meram, though from Shelby Township, Mich., played against Porter’s National Championship-winning Akron Zips team in the semifinals of the 2010 NCAA College Cup, while Lalas Abubakar, a native of Ghana, played for three seasons at the University of Dayton from 2014-2016 as yet another roster-related Ohio connection.
Up a rung on the ladder and looking into the Front Office, Bezbatchenko, raised in Westerville, Ohio, attended St. Francis DeSales High School in Columbus before eventually returning to the state to attend law school at the University of Cincinnati College of Law.
As part of Friday’s announcement, both Bezbatchenko and Porter looked forward to establishing their engagement with the supporters and the community, as well as the chance to return to Ohio and work towards bringing a trophy to one of MLS’s original clubs.
“It is a new era in Columbus and with the stewardship of The Edwards Family and The Haslam Family, I am excited to get started as we make our quest for championship titles, deep engagement with the supporters and the community and a commitment to continually give back to the City,” Bezbatchenko said in the announcement. “My family and I are thrilled for the opportunity to return to Central Ohio and to be a part of this organization and its bright future on the business and soccer side alike.”
In line with Bezbatchenko’s sentiments, Porter said “[in] the days and weeks ahead, I am eager to return to Ohio and begin working with our players and staff to prepare for the upcoming season. I look forward to meeting the dedicated supporters of the club and the chance for my family to be a part of this wonderful community is something that inspires me, as is the opportunity to work each day towards bringing a trophy to the City of Columbus.”
As for the Investor-Operator group, The Haslam Family and The Edwards Family emphasized how Tim and Caleb’s Ohio roots represent the “perfect fit as we move into a new era of Crew Soccer.”
With the 2019 MLS Combine currently taking place in Orlando, Fla. through Jan. 9, and the 2019 MLS SuperDraft to take place on Friday, Jan. 11 in Chicago, the preseason quickly approaches as less than two months remain between now and Columbus’ home- and season-opener against the New York Red Bulls on Saturday, March 2 at MAPFRE Stadium.
So whether it’s the Gahanna Boy (Trapp), the Zips’ Zen Master (Porter), the Wizard of Westerville (Bezbatchenko), and of course, The Edwards Family and The Haslam Family operating from Columbus and Cleveland, respectively (alliterations only run so far), Crew SC’s Ohio roots run vertically as the Black & Gold rise in pursuit of MLS Cup in the years to come.