The Columbus Crew's makeover continues.
Caleb Porter is back on the MLS sidelines as the new manager of the club, while former Toronto FC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has been named the club's president and will direct its business and sporting operations, the team announced on Friday.
Porter, the former Portland Timbers coach who guided the club to the 2015 MLS Cup title, sat the last year out after departing Portland following the 2017 MLS season. It appeared earlier in the offseason that Porter was going to be taking over as coach of the LA Galaxy instead, as he was spotted sitting courtside with team president (and Porter's former college roommate) Chris Klein and new Galaxy general manager Dennis te Kloese at a recent Lakers-Heat NBA game.
Yet after reported conversations with both the Crew and Galaxy, Porter will return to Ohio, where he enjoyed loads of success as coach of Akron University before taking on the professional ranks. The Crew were on the wrong side of his top achievement, with his Timbers going into Columbus to win MLS Cup three years ago.
Porter takes over a club in transition after Gregg Berhalter departed to become coach of the U.S. men's national team. The Crew are also poised to lose starting goalkeeper Zack Steffen, who will exit and join Manchester City in July. Even with the major defections, Columbus has newfound momentum, with a new local ownership group spearheaded by the Haslam family purchasing the team from Anthony Precourt and keeping it in Columbus after a yearlong saga had all signs pointing to relocation to Austin, Texas. A new $230 million downtown stadium plan has been proposed along with the promise of staying put, a reward for an impassioned fanbase and area leadership that did what they could to save the Crew for the city.
That fanbase will have a new coach to support, one with a high profile within the league and one with some big shoes to fill. Porter, who previously coached the U.S. U-23 national team, also interviewed with the San Jose Earthquakes earlier this year, according to SI's Grant Wahl. He'll be quite familiar with the Crew's captain, having coached Wil Trapp for two seasons at Akron.
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While Berhalter was both manager and sporting director from the Crew, Porter won't step into both roles. The club had reportedly interviewed ex-New York Red Bulls sporting director Ali Curtis and former Galaxy and U.S. men's national team coach Bruce Arena for the front-office position that will work in tandem with the new manager, but Curtis wound up taking the same post with Toronto FC. The man Curtis is replacing, Bezbatchenko, is on his way to Columbus to pair with Porter and take the Crew forward.
Bezbatchenko, an Ohio native, helped turn Toronto FC from a bottom-feeder in to a title contender, crafting the squad that won the 2017 MLS Cup and Supporters' Shield after leaving his position within the league office for the club.
“We are thrilled to have secured Tim Bezbatchenko and Caleb Porter to lead Columbus Crew SC,” the Crew's new ownership group said in a joint statement. “Tim's track record in building a successful team, including an MLS Cup in 2017, along with his experience on both the league-side and club-side of Major League Soccer make him uniquely qualified to serve as president and provides strong leadership. Caleb has been a proven winner every place he has coached and like Tim won an MLS Cup in 2015. He has a deep understanding of how to build formidable and successful programs and is well respected for his soccer acumen and development of players. With Tim and Caleb sharing some Ohio roots, we feel they are the perfect fit as we move into a new era of Crew soccer.”
Porter and Bezbatchenko take charge just as the offseason begins to ramp up. The MLS SuperDraft is next Friday in Chicago, ahead of the start of preseason. As the 2018 season was ending there was plenty of uncertainty regarding the Crew, their top personnel and what state they'd even be calling home. All the pieces are falling into place now.