What you need to know

Bezbatchenko departs Columbus Crew, Tall elevated to GM

Defending MLS Cup champions Columbus Crew have elevated Issa Tall to general manager as previous president and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko departs to become president of Black Knight Football – an organization that helps support the English Premier League’s AFC Bournemouth, Scottish Premiership’s Hibernian FC and French Ligue 1’s FC Lorient.

MLS NEXT 2023-24 awards announced

MLS NEXT has announced winners of the MVP presented by adidas, Goal of the Year presented by Allstate and Sportsmanship Award presented by DoorDash for the 2023-24 MLS NEXT regular season. Players and teams from the four age groups (U-15, U-16, U-17, U-19) were selected based on their performances over the 2023-24 MLS NEXT regular season. Take a look at the full list here.

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A new Crew and Chucky

Yesterday suddenly turned into a huge news day. And here we were thinking the international break would be quiet. We’ll have a mini-Watchgridometer for you tomorrow. Today we’ve got to talk a couple of things out.

Tim Bezbatchenko’s departure signals the beginning of the end

It had to happen eventually. This era of the Crew has had a limited shelf life from the jump. They’re a classic MLS case of suffering from success. You can’t be this good with so much young talent and avoid the reality that there are bigger clubs in the sport. At some point, the pieces that have made this Columbus team one of the most memorable sides in league history were going to be pulled away.

But, from afar, general manager and president Tim Bezbatchenko never seemed like he’d be the first domino to fall. Head coach Wilfried Nancy, DP forward Cucho Hernández and rising star Aidan Morris all felt like likely candidates to move on first. Bezbatchenko is from Ohio and left Toronto FC to take charge of the Crew. And, well, honestly you don’t really think about execs making these kinds of moves, do you?

It’s a wholly deserved move, though. Bezbatchenko took over as Toronto FC’s general manager in 2013 and guided the club from expansion-club mediocrity into a treble-winning juggernaut in 2017. In 2019 he took over as president and general manager in Columbus. One year later, the Crew were MLS Cup champions. In 2023, he orchestrated a coup by bringing in Nancy from CF Montréal and the Crew immediately reaped the rewards of pairing one of the best managers the league has seen with Bezbatchenko’s outstanding roster. They won MLS Cup and then made their way through Concacaf Champions Cup, picking up multiple historic wins on their way to the CCC Final.

In short: He’s turned every team he’s been in charge of into one of the best sides in MLS history. And it sure feels like if you can get the job done under MLS roster rules and restrictions, you can find success anywhere.

Now, former assistant general manager Issa Tall takes over at a time where more dominos are set to fall. He’s been with the team since 2019 and surely knows what’s about to happen. Nancy isn’t long for MLS and neither is Cucho. Darlington Nagbe, who’s 33, can’t play forever (probably) and teams will be hovering around Morris. For now, Tall’s job is all about succession planning for one of the best teams in MLS history. That’s not easy work.

But the Crew have outstanding infrastructure in place. They have an academy and MLS NEXT Pro side that’s so good that even their pieces get poached. Don’t forget, Montréal manager Laurent Courtois coached Crew 2 last year. And don’t forget that Columbus won a championship a year before we even knew who Nancy was. They should be fine long-term.

But it’s likely they won’t be quite this good again for a while. We’re watching an era start to come to an end. Appreciate it while you can.

Chucky Lozano’s signing is a statement of intent

There’s not a ton to add to what you probably already know. San Diego FC went out and pulled one of the most coveted “What if that guy came to MLS?” players in the world and they did it before they even played a game. It’s a clear statement of intent from the league’s newest team. They’re not messing around.

These kinds of moves normally create a feedback loop, too. Chucky comes first then another player sees where Chucky is going and thinks that it might be nice to live in 70-degree weather all year and suddenly San Diego FC are a destination team.

Now, they may not be a Los Angeles team, a New York team or Miami. But there’s every chance San Diego FC could find a nice, comfortable place in that tier right below when it comes to drawing in players. With the impressive academy infrastructure they’re building out via their connection to the Right To Dream Academy, they’re seemingly building towards the kind of expansion team progression that eventually sees them competing at a high-level in MLS, maybe even immediately.

There’s obviously still a lot of work to do. But what they’ve already done is impressive. We’re still a few months away now from their first game but they’re already worth keeping an eye on.

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Good luck out there. Let them know that this isn’t even your final form.