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Columbus Crew SC announced on Wednesday that the Pittsburgh Riverhounds will be the club's USL affiliate for 2016. The agreement between the two clubs allows Crew SC to send players to Pittsburgh on loan, and replaces their 2015 partnership with the Austin Aztex, who have shuttered operations for a year as they seek a soccer-specific venue to call home.

“We look forward to beginning a USL affiliation with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds as we continue to strengthen our player development efforts,” said Crew SC sporting director and head coach Gregg Berhalter in a club statement.

“Pittsburgh’s philosophies and values on and off the field – from ownership to the coaching staff – are like-minded and exactly what we are looking for in a partnership. Their head coach Mark Steffens is a Hall of Fame coach and we feel Pittsburgh will be a strong environment for success in the development of some of our younger professionals.”

The Riverhounds began play as a member of the USL's former A-League in 1999, and were an inaugural member of USL in its current form when the league was founded ahead of the 2011 season. Pittsburgh finished in fifth place in the USL's Eastern Conference this year, qualifying for the USL postseason.

“Our coaching staff is thrilled to be affiliated with one of the best organizations in MLS,” said Steffens. “Berhalter's style and philosophy are similar to ours, so I believe our partnership will be very fruitful on a number of fronts. This is a great opportunity for our entire club to learn from Columbus both on and off the field, help to develop young loanees into well-rounded professionals and men of integrity and to strengthen our roster for another USL playoff push in 2016.”