It’s a season of changes for Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew: Not only are they moving into a new stadium, they’re also in a brand new training center.
President and General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko says the team was outgrowing their previous training facility in Obetz, which is just over seven miles south of downtown Columbus.
“The league grew. The amount of players grew going from 20 to 30 players on a roster and our operations grew,” Bezbatchenko said. “Our performance staff didn’t have room for offices. The scouting team didn’t have room to be at the same location as our coaches. Our gym was extremely small and the locker rooms were tight.”
Due to COVID-19 protocols, the team had to bring in trailers just to have enough room for everyone to spread out.
This month the team officially moved into their Columbus Crew training center–OhioHealth Performance Center–and it comes at a good time for the current MLS champions.
“We decided to move in during an international break where we don’t have matches,” Bezbatchenko said. “Some of the players still haven’t seen it because they’re playing with their national teams right now. The limited break hasn’t impacted any matches or preparing for games so far.”
It’s a state-of-the are facility clocking in at 42,000 square feet designed by Columbus Architectural Studio and built by Corna Kokosing Construction. This also marks the first time a soccer-specific stadium has been turned into a comprehensive training ground experience. It was built on the site of the Crew’s original home, MAPFRE Stadium, which opened in 1999.
“That stadium is historic and important to soccer. Lamar Hunt stepped up to build the first soccer-specific stadium in North America. That’s what we’re in now. It was a game changer for soccer in this country,” Bazbatchenko said. “As time went by, other teams built new stadiums. Pretty soon you’re 20 years in and you’re at a place where amenities in the sports industry have outgrown a venue like Historic Crew Stadium.”
The new training facility site includes the stadium, performance center, three natural grass fields, and a flex/goalie area. There’s 415,000 square feet of playing surface between those areas, and two of the fields are supported by hydronic heating and SubAir systems and there’s a seasonal bubble that can be put over the stadium field so teams can still practice during cold or inclement weather.
“It’s great because during the off-season, our players can now stay in-market and train together.”
Other amenities include a full-service kitchen and dining area, lounges, training and equipment rooms, a hydrotherapy area, state-of-the-art media and production rooms, and sleep and meditation rooms.
“We want to provide an environment for players to reach their full potential whether that’s talking to a chef or nutritionist about diet plans, using hydrospas to treat the usual bumps and bruises, or studying game film in a theater. That’s something our old facility didn’t have.”
The design is also creating ways for players to interact more and grow as a team whether that’s opening a glass garage door to roll gym equipment out onto the pitch or letting injured players stay involved.
“Players who are recovering from injuries sometimes feel disconnected from the team as they rehab because they’re separated. With the design, they can still be adjacent to the training rooms, the fields, or the coaches’ offices. That’s important for their mental well-being as they recover. They still feel like they’re part of the team.”
Younger players in the academy also benefit from interacting with players and coaches from the First Team.
“While the First Team and Academy have their own separate spaces, they could still interact with each other whether that’s discussing soccer in the hallways or having meals together in the cafeteria.”
Bazbatchenko hopes new facilities will attract new talent to continue their careers here in the United States.
“You need a facility like this to maintain an edge on the competition. We want to attract talent from overseas and these types of facilities demonstrate how a player can come here, develop and learn in order to become a better player, and have a long, successful career.”
The New Crew stadium is opening on July 3 but for now, the team is enjoying the OhioHealth Performance Center.
“Every day, I look at our head coach, Caleb Porter, and say how lucky and humble we are to be in such a world-class space. We’re thankful to our ownership group for providing the resources for this. It shows how ambitious we are to be the top club in Major League Soccer and bring home more championships.”
Images courtesy Columbus Crew.