Since its inception in 2006, the mission for the Crew Juniors program has beenn simple: create the premier youth player development program in Major League Soccer. If the distinctive black and yellow seen on fields all over the US Youth Soccer National Championships at Manchester Meadows is any indication, it seems the mission is coming to fruition. Four Crew Jrs teams have advanced to the National Championships via the Regional Championships or the US Youth Soccer National League.
Under-15 National League divisional champions CUP Crew Juniors (OH-S) won its division with a record-setting performance by Luke Treadway who led the way with a boys’ record 13 goals in the 2011-2012 National League campaign. Despite securing a bid to the National Championships in March, CUP Crew Jrs continued its top-level play and claimed the Region II Championship in June.
Challenger Crew Jrs (OH-N) advanced to the National Championships as the U-15 Region II representative, having won a play-in game on the final day in Saginaw, Mich. with both teams in the regional final advancing via the National League. Challenger exhibited a balanced attack with seven players finding the net on the week.
Grand Rapids Crew Jrs (MI) return as U-18s for their fifth consecutive appearance at the National Championships—a feat unmatched in US Youth Soccer history. This year, Grand Rapids returns as defending champions, having triumphed in a shootout over Penn Fusion Celtic (E-PA) in the 2011 final.
Crew Jrs (OH-S) return to the national stage in the U-19 Boys age group to compete for the storied James P. McGuire Cup. As an organization, Crew Jrs place a particularly high priority on identifying a group of players who will represent the Crew crest well to compete for the oldest trophy in youth sport.
Crew Jrs has enjoyed this success across all affiliate markets based on the unique characteristics of the club and its location.
"Crew wide we’ve embraced that we are a smaller market and we’ve got to do things a little differently. Maybe try different ideas and be creative and innovative in programming, and bring the right people in who are really passionate about doing it," said Andrew Arthurs, Executive VP of Crew Jrs. "The organization has done that as we’ve grown, but the youth side especially needed the right folks on the leadership team since the youth soccer landscape is constantly changing. That leadership is critical."
According to Arthurs, the process of selecting affiliate clubs and markets for Crew Jrs begins at the top.
"I think like anything else we want to do our homework and see what the market is like and what the facility is like, the staff and quality of players," he said. "But near or at the top of the list is the quality of people running the club. Are we aligned philosophically and aligned in terms of our values, priorities and beliefs? If that is there, then helping with the quality of the player pool and helping with facilities or anything else will come as long you are starting with like-minded people. That would be the most significant common thread—we feel good about the relationship and the top end of each of our partners."
Arthurs’ team at Crew Jrs is committed to getting in front of all the affiliate teams as frequently as schedule allows—running training sessions, hosting teams at Crew Stadium and the like. These opportunities, paired with the brand recognition Crew Jrs brings to the table, have benefited all the affiliate clubs.
"I think the biggest benefit our partnership with Crew brings us is name recognition and the opportunity they give both our club and our kids in terms of uniforms and competition and the like," said Josh Sheldon, Director of Coaching at Grand Rapids Crew Jrs.
In addition to any competitive advantages associated with wearing the crest of the Crew and claiming that affiliation, clubs also enjoy access to a network of like-minded coaches and administrators who possess a certain intellectual cache.
"One thing you will find with all of our clubs is we all have the same philosophy and belief system and kid of what we want to get out of this," Sheldon said. "We communicate via email quite a bit with the other affiliate clubs. Both for coaches and for the administrative side of things, I think it’s a tribute to the Columbus Crew where all our clubs are and I think a big part of that is shared resources. So instead of us wasting time trying to figure things out we can pick up a phone with a club that may have gone through it already which can be very helpful for the Directors of Coaching."
Shared resources, top player talent, high-level coaching and quality administration led each Crew Jrs team to tremendous development opportunities and qualifications to the National Championships. It will be these same traits that could lead them to a record three national titles, the most for any MLS club in a single year. Both affiliate teams and the first team at Crew foresee continued advantages and continued success.
"It’s great to see so many players enjoying the benefits of the partnerships and doing so well. It’s meaningful to the entire Crew club, from Hunt Sports to our GM and our first team. They are all aware of and proud of what the youth side is doing," Arthurs said. "How US Youth Soccer runs the National Championship Series, the organization, professionalism, high level of play, it’s something that our kids get really excited about. Since they were young they’ve understood the progression from state to regionals to nationals and really benefit from participation in the events."