OBETZ, Ohio – When fans got wind that 17-year-old Manchester City product Kelechi Iheanacho was training with the Columbus Crew – and had scored a hat trick for the black and gold Wednesday in a scrimmage against USL PRO side Dayton Dutch Lions – they were understandably excited.
But head coach Gregg Berhalter was quick to pour cold water on the rumors that the Crew were interested in the former Nigerian U-17 star and made it clear that Iheanacho was only in Columbus to stay sharp after he failed to make the cut with City’s first team.
"It's helping another team out, basically," Berhalter said. "And we would hope we would get the same from another club if we had to ask something like that, where because it's in America it works out nicely."
The tie to the Crew came from one of Berhalter's old USMNT friends Claudio Reyna, the director of football operations at New York City Football Club, the MLS expansion club that is partially-owned by the same group that runs English Premier club Manchester City. Iheanacho (above) impressed with City during their US preseason tour earlier this summer and scored a goal in their 4-1 win over Sporting Kansas City.
"[Iheanacho] wanted a place to train," Berhalter said. "[Manchester City] approached us. … He wanted to play at a club and train, and I guess we have similar philosophies, values, so we said we'd be glad to help out."
Berhalter said he's doing Reyna a favor, and noted that the Crew aren't benefitting directly from the arrangement.
"We don't get anything; it's not about us," he said. "Basically, we're providing training from an individual...He's here getting fit, getting sharp, training in a good atmosphere where he can learn. That's what it's about."
Iheanacho, who is staying in a hotel in Columbus, will be around until mid-October, according to Berhalter, and has adapted to Crew training well.
"He's enjoying himself," Berhalter said. "The guys have embraced him; he's doing a good job."
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And while it may seem counterintuitive to have Iheanacho taking up a spot in training without a tangible benefit to the Crew, Berhalter said his shorthanded team could use the help and knows he won't let the Nigerian's presence be a negative.
"Right now we're under 20 guys on the field, so we're right at that stage, and we're very aware of that," he said. "If it would [take time away from Crew players], obviously we would alter it so that it wouldn't. If we had 23 guys and it were taking reps away from guys, we would be cognizant of that."