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Major League Soccer unveils 27th team: Austin FC

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Major League Soccer has formally unveiled its 27th team, Austin FC.

The Anthony Precourt-owned team puts MLS one franchise away from its self-imposed maximum of 28.

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Precourt unsuccessfully tried to relocate his Columbus Crew to Austin before working his way into an expansion team.

He insists Austin FC will have local investment, and that pleases MLS commissioner Don Garber. From The Austin Statesman:

“We will shortly be announcing that we’ll be welcoming in local Austin partners into our ownership group,” Precourt said. “I’ve had very productive conversations over the last year, and we have very strong interest in a great lineup of local Austinites that will be part of this going forward.”

“If not for those plans, we probably wouldn’t be here today,” Garber told the Statesman. “The final ownership structure will be one that would satisfy our real strong desire and preference to have our clubs have local roots.”

Austin joins Nashville and Miami as announced expansion teams, and AFC will begin play in 2021.

Home of the University of Texas and a myriad of popular musical acts like Spoon, Explosions in the Sky, and The Sword, Texas’ capital is an attractive spot for MLS and will have built-in rivalry capabilities between Houston and Dallas (with San Antonio a long-rumored MLS flirtation).

MLS will almost certainly expand beyond 28 teams, with Charlotte, San Diego, and Detroit among the league’s long-term targets.

Also of note: Alexi Lalas played guitar.

It is official: Porter, Bezbatchenko hired by Columbus Crew

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) The Columbus Crew has named Caleb Porter as head coach and Tim Bezbatchenko as its new president.

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The moves come with a new ownership group led by Cleveland Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam expected to take over and plans in the works for a new downtown stadium. The MLS team was at risk of being moved to Austin, Texas, by its present owners before the local group stepped in.

The 43-year-old Porter was head coach of the Portland Timbers from 2013-17, finishing there with a 68-50-52 record. Previously, he was head soccer coach at the University of Akron from 2006-12.

The 37-year-old Bezbatchenko was Toronto FC’s vice president of soccer operations and general manager from 2013-18.

The Crew opens the season March 2.

More AP Sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Columbus Crew hires former Portland boss Caleb Porter

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Caleb Porter has been hired as the 8th head coach in Columbus Crew history, the club announced on Friday, while also unveiling Tim Bezbatchenko as team president.

Porter has been out of a job since he departed the Portland Timbers in late 2017 after a disappointing playoff exit in the semifinals followed a season that saw Portland earn the top spot in the West. The 43-year-old has an MLS Cup victory to his name, coming in 2015 with the Timbers in which he defeated the Crew in the finals.

Porter replaces Gregg Berhalter who left Columbus after five seasons to become head coach of the U.S. Men’s National Team.

“I am honored to join Columbus Crew SC, a club with a rich history in Major League Soccer and a city with great appreciation for its beloved club dating back to 1996,” Porter said. The statement is a poignant one that alludes to the club remaining in Columbus after a tumultuous period that featured speculation the team would move to Austin, TX before the Haslam family swooped in to purchase the club and keep it in Ohio. There were reports that Porter had conversations with the LA Galaxy before ultimately deciding to take over at Columbus.

“Caleb has been a proven winner every place he has coached and like Tim won an MLS Cup in 2015,” the Crew SC Investor-Operator group said in the club release. “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’s Ohio connection stems from his six years in charge of the Akron Zips program, which he led from 2006-2012 before joining the USMNT youth coaching ranks.

New president Tim Bezbatchenko comes over from Toronto FC where he built a squad that challenged for the top spot in the East before winning the MLS Cup in 2017. He signed Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley, and Jozy Altidore at Toronto, the players who provided the backbone of the title contending squads.

Report: Bezbatchenko to Columbus, Ali Curtis to Toronto

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MLSSoccer.com’s Sam Stejskal says two of the league’s administrative big wigs could be joining new clubs.

Former New York Red Bulls architect Ali Curtis and current Toronto FC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko are the men in question.

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Bezbatchenko is said to be moving back home to Columbus for the president’s position at Crew SC, where he’d also oversee the business side of the club. He was born 20 minutes from Crew Stadium, but has made his name by putting together the TFC powerhouse. The Reds’ 2017 season might’ve been the best in MLS history.

In his place may be Curtis, the 40-year-old who served as Red Bulls sporting director when the club hired Jesse Marsch.

One of the hallmarks of RBNY under Curtis was its well-oiled academy to USL to MLS set-up, and TFC could use a strong organizer to sort out the Ontario scene.

They’re saved! Agreement in principle to purchase Crew

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Once the i’s are dotted and t’s crossed, the Columbus Crew will officially be staying in Columbus.

Amazingly, the Save the Crew movement appears to have worked as MLS announced there is an agreement in principal for the Edwards and Haslam families to purchase operating rights of the Crew from Anthony Precourt and Precourt Sports Ventures. The deal keeps the Crew in Columbus while allowing Precourt to start his MLS club in Austin, Texas. The purchase is expected to be completed in January 2019.

Earlier on Friday morning, Columbus city attorney Zach Klein announced he was dismissing the city’s lawsuit against PSV for his intention of moving the Crew to Austin.

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“After several months of discussions, we are extremely pleased to have reached an agreement in principle with the Haslam and Edwards families for them to assume an ownership position in Major League Soccer and operate Columbus Crew SC starting in January, 2019,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a league statement.

“While we work to finalize the deal promptly, we want to state publicly the tremendous collaboration and community support for Crew SC, which has set the stage for a powerful plan that includes a world-class soccer stadium – a critical step that will help ensure the club’s success on and off the field. We appreciate all the diligent work from the Haslam and Edwards families, the leadership from the Columbus Partnership, the City of Columbus, Franklin County and the State of Ohio, Precourt Sports Ventures, and all of those who have contributed over the past several months to create the elements that will solidify Crew SC’s long-term future as an integral part of the Columbus sports scene.”

The Crew’s new potential ownership has local ties and roots. Pete Edwards is chairman of the Edwards Companies, a Columbus, Ohio-based land development and housing ownership organization. He was born and raised in Columbus, and went to Ohio State University. Jimmy and Dee Haslem are owners of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns in addition to being the CEO of gas station chain Pilot Flying J. Per Forbes, the Haslams have a net worth of $2.7 billion, which will make them instantly one of the league’s wealthiest clubs.

Part of the purchase is the intention of the Crew to build a new stadium in Columbus’ downtown core, near Nationwide Arena, home of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Real estate in that area is hard to come by, but with the Edwards family’s real estate experience and the backing of the Columbus Partnership, a group of Columbus business executives, a deal will likely get done within the next few years.

Ultimately, this is a great move for both the Crew and MLS as a whole. In 2018, it’s unacceptable for an ownership group to pick up and leave, especially one such as PSV which was manufacturing poor marketing and sales statistics by not spending in those areas, making it look as though there was no interest in the club. Incredibly, Gregg Berhalter led the Crew in 2018 to a respectable fifth-place finish and a place in the MLS quarterfinals, despite all the insecurity regarding whether the team would pick up and move after the season.

While Precourt is certainly the villain of the story, Garber deserves some of the blame as well as some praise. Garber approved the clause that let Precourt potentially move the team to Austin into the purchasing agreement and wasn’t transparent about it, and essentially tried to help Precourt negotiate his way out of town. However, Garber then also helped facilitate this move to keep the Crew in Columbus. It’s unclear whether die-hard Crew fans will ever appreciate Garber’s work in the last few months to keep the Crew in town, after it seemed he was in favor of the club leaving.