With an eye on extending the club’s new soccer philosophy to Ohio’s most promising boys’ soccer players, Columbus Crew SC today announced the creation of the new Crew SC Academy, as well as the hiring of several new Academy staff members.
Columbus Crew SC’s soccer philosophy – first implemented last season with the Crew SC First Team – prioritizes a proactive style of play, player-first culture and focus on individual development. The expansion of the club’s soccer philosophy into the Academy program is the next step in the evolution of the soccer identity of Columbus Crew SC. Under the direction of Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter, all Crew SC Academy teams will feature the same style of play and training methodology as the First Team as well as the club’s focus on a player-first culture off the field. The Crew SC Academy program features boys’ teams in three age groups (U-13/14, U-15/16 and U-17/18) that compete in the 10-month U.S. Soccer Development Academy and Generation adidas Cup, two of the most prestigious and selective youth soccer competitions in the country. The program is fully funded by Crew SC for the more than 60 players selected into the program and provides a direct pathway to signing a professional contract with the club.
“The long-term success of the Columbus Crew SC First Team will depend on a foundation built by a strong Academy program,” said Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter. “In order to build a strong Academy program, we thought it was imperative to align the soccer philosophy of the First Team and the Academy and then assemble a staff of experienced professional youth coaches and administrators in order to implement our philosophy. We also highly value our new relationships with the leaders in the Ohio youth soccer community and plan to collaborate with them to continue their proud tradition of developing Major League Soccer players.”
One of several new hires by the Black & Gold with previous experience working in professional youth academies, Crew SC Academy Director Michael Milazzo joins Crew SC after working most recently with Richmond Strikers SC, where he served as Academy Director and Head Coach of the U-15/16 and U-17/18 teams from 2012-2014. Milazzo works alongside Crew SC Director of Methodology Nico Estevez and both report directly to Berhalter. Milazzo holds a U.S. Soccer “A” License and is currently participating in the U.S. Soccer Academy Director Course. Previously, Milazzo was the Academy Director, General Manager and the U-14 through U-18 Head Coach of the CASL Chelsea FC Academy from 2007-2011.
“I am very excited to join Columbus Crew SC. The First Team has become known across the country for a very specific and proactive style of play and earned a reputation as a player-first club,” stated newly hired Crew SC Academy Director Michael Milazzo. “I value the opportunity to work with Gregg and the Academy staff to extend the soccer philosophy of the club to our Academy program. I am also looking forward to working with the local youth soccer leaders from Ohio to continue producing players who grow up to play professionally for Ohio’s MLS team.”
Milazzo will work with a Crew SC Academy staff among the most qualified group of youth soccer professionals in the country, including Nico Estevez (Director of Methodology), Joaquin Gonzalez (U-15/16 Head Coach and Performance Coordinator), James Fields (U-13/14 Head Coach), Andy Brinkman (Goalkeeper Coach), Abdi Moallin (Scout/Assistant Coach) and Todd Avery (Academy Coordinator), as well as soon-to-be-hired positions of U-17/18 Head Coach and Academy Athletic Trainer.
Estevez, who holds a UEFA Pro License, spent eight years in Spain with La Liga club Valencia CF in its Academy and Department of Methodology. In addition to coaching the La Liga side’s reserve team, Estevez also briefly assumed the role of interim head coach of Valencia’s first team. With Crew SC, he is responsible for developing and implementing the training curriculum for all Academy teams, while reinforcing consistent principles of play throughout each level and overseeing the individual player development plan for each player.
Gonzalez also holds a UEFA Pro License and comes to Columbus after two years at the Valencia CF Academy and four years at the Levante UD Academy, also in Spain. He holds a PhD in Performance Analysis in soccer and is responsible for the individual and team development of Crew SC’s U-15/16 age group while providing assistance throughout the Academy.
Fields, the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Central Conference Coach of the Year in 2014-15, continues his work with Crew SC’s U-13/U-14 team. Last year, Fields led the Crew SC U-13/14 age group on its way to earning the prestigious ‘Style of Play’ award by U.S. Soccer, awarded by U.S. Soccer coaches to only three teams per age group in the country. Moallin joins the Academy coaching staff as a full-time youth scout and assistant coach. Brinkman brings a vast amount of experience to the Academy’s goalkeepers, as he previously worked with the club’s First Team goalkeepers. Avery joins the Academy staff as a full-time Academy Coordinator from The Ohio State University, where he served as the Director of Soccer Operations for the women’s soccer program.
The reconstructed Crew SC Academy prioritizes relationships with soccer leaders from clubs in the Ohio youth soccer community. The Crew SC technical staff has been meeting regularly with local leaders, including Lesh Shkreli (Director of Coaching, Blast FC), Mohamood Razack (Director of Coaching, Blast FC), Steve Dawson (Director of Coaching, Club Ohio), Mike Lentz (Director of Coaching, Classics Eagles), Chris Baer (Executive Director of Coaching, Ohio Premier SC), Scott Bower (Senior Boys Director of Coaching, Cincinnati United Premier), Peter Smith (Beadling SC) and George Nanchoff (Founder and Director of Coaching, Internationals). The top regional youth coaches have played integral roles in the development of many of the current MLS players with Ohio roots and several players currently playing in the Crew SC Academy have been identified through these relationships, including Louie Bulger (Cincinnati United Premier), Maouloune Goumballe (Kings Hammer), Ludwig Conrad (Blast FC), Kale Nichols (Bowling Green Crew SC), Ron Thaci (Blast FC), Jack Heyes (Blast FC), Kurt Lehmkuhl (Ohio Premier SC) and Joey Brooks (Classics Eagles).