Columbus reboot: Moves set up Tim Bezbatchenko to run Crew


Photo: Julian Avramicon-Icon Sportswire

Following two moves announced on Wednesday, the Columbus Crew is clear to confirm one of the two final major front-office openings in MLS.

Under new ownership as the first of the year, Andy Loughnane, the president of business operations, has left the Crew and was announced as the president of Austin FC, where he will work under chairman/CEO Anthony Precourt, the former Crew owner.

Along with the departure of head coach and sport director Gregg Berhalter, the new U.S. men's national team coach, Loughnane's parting clears the way for Toronto FC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko to become the Crew's new president, overseeing both the business and soccer sides of the club.

The Columbus Dispatch’s Michael Arace first reported that Bezbatchenko will leave TFC, where Ali Curtis was announced as his replacement as general manager.

The Columbus job is a huge opportunity for Bezbatchenko, a native of nearby Westerville, Ohio.

He was 31 when he was hired as general manager and helped build Toronto FC, which failed to make the playoffs in its first eight years, into back-to-back MLS Cup finalist in 2016 and 2017 and the first winner of a triple (MLS Cup, Supporters' Shield and Canadian Championship) in 2017.

In Columbus, he will oversee the reconstruction of the Crew, which was saved when Jimmy and Dee Haslam, the owners of the Cleveland Browns, and partner Pete Edwards, a Crew team doctor, assumed an ownership position in MLS and agreed to operate the club after Precourt pursued a move to Austin.

An agreement was reached with the city of Columbus, Franklin County and the state of Ohio on a 20,000-seat soccer stadium in the Arena District to replace Mapfre Stadium, the current home of the Crew, which will be turned into a recreational sports park.

On the soccer side, the Crew still needs to announce a head coach. Former Portland Timbers coach Caleb Porter is expected to be named Berhalter's successor. He was head coach of the University of Akron and led the Zips to a national championship in 2010.

Mutiny reunion in Toronto. Like Bezbatchenko, Curtis worked in MLS's league offices before joining the New York Red Bulls as sporting director in 2014. He was with the Red Bulls when they won the 2015 Supporters' Shield but left the club in early 2017.

Curtis, 40, will be reunited with TFC president Bill Manning, who drafted him out of Duke University as the second overall pick in the 2001 SuperDraft when he was the Tampa Bay Mutiny general manager.

FC Dallas void. The other major opening is at FC Dallas, where vice president of soccer operations Luiz Muzzi left in December to become Orlando City's replacement for general manager Niki Budalic. Muzzi had assumed his position three months earlier when technical director Fernando Clavijo stepped down to focus on his personal health.

Other moves. Besides Toronto FC and Orlando City, Philadelphia (Ernst Tanner hired Red Bull Salzburg in August as new sporting director), Montreal (head coach Remi Garde taking charge of all player personnel decision) and LA Galaxy (Dennis te Kloese arriving from the Mexico federation as general manager) have made changes on the technical side.

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