Now entering his seventh year as the radio play-by-play announcer for Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew, Neil Sika has also spent the past nine years providing coverage of numerous NCAA Division I athletics.
Additionally, he has worked several national and regional events on television (Big Ten Network, STO, TWC) and radio (Monarch Sports).
Buckeyes, Blue Jackets and more
While the hiring of former U.S. Men's National Team striker Josh Wolff as an Assistant Coach to Crew Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter's staff stole the headlines on Wednesday, Berhalter's selection of Asher Mendelsohn as Director of Soccer Operations may have flown under the radar of some.
Mendelsohn comes to the Crew following nine years with the U.S. Soccer Federation in which his responsibilities ranged from overseeing the U.S. Soccer Development Academy in its infancy to managing referee operations. In a relationship that has developed since their first meeting at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, Berhalter was drawn to Mendelsohn's vision and drive for changing the soccer landscape around the country.
"Asher is a bright guy," the Sporting Director and Head Coach said. "He's organized a lot of participants with U.S. Soccer in terms of getting the Academy going, dealing with referees at a high level and overall evaluating the soccer landscape in the U.S. -- that was important to me."
In his new role as Director of Soccer Operations, Mendelsohn will help Berhalter manage roster decisions pertaining to League rules and the salary cap, as well as developing and implementing the Crew's technical vision from the youth side to the First Team. The Brown graduate's involvement with the USSDA will be an advantage in continuing to develop an already strong Crew Youth system.
"I give a lot of credit to [Crew Juniors Executive Director] Andrew Arthurs and [Director of Coaching] Billy Thompson, they've done a really nice job with putting the youth program together," Mendelsohn said over the phone Thursday. "Our conversations have been about how we help that group continue to grow and continue to push them to make players and hopefully make even better players.
"That's not to take anything away from what's been done, but like anything within the Crew organization as Gregg and I look at it, it's how do we push the envelope and make this the best franchise in the League."
Added Berhalter: "[Mendelsohn's Academy experience] gave him the ability to look at this large group and get it sorted out, and that's part of what attracted me to that. I would say that him and myself will be working closely with Andrew [Arthurs] to support them and make them the best they can be. We want to continue on with that.
Though Mendelsohn's experiences with the U.S. Soccer Federation did not include roster management, he is not fazed by assisting Berhalter with player acquisition and the salary cap.
"When you look at the areas I'm going to be working on with Gregg, [roster rules] is the area I have the least experience in right now," the new Director of Soccer Operations admitted. "I'm very familiar with the League, the people at the League office and how the League functions. In terms of the roster rules, it's something that Gregg and I had the opportunity to sit down with League officials this week and go through.
He continued: "There's kind of a mythology that the League is very complicated and that it's a huge challenge for the people running the teams. After spending time with the League, they actually put down a pretty clear system of what they're trying to do. I think the real challenge is how do we compete in an international marketplace to acquire players. When MLS teams don't have the same resources as a Manchester United or a Chelsea or Real Madrid to import whoever they want. We have to be smarter about that. We have to work a little bit harder."
As the Waiver Draft, Re-Entry Draft, the MLS SuperDraft and the free agent signing period quickly approach, Mendelsohn's first objective with Berhalter is to build the Crew's roster for 2014. Like Berhalter, Mendelsohn believes the Black & Gold are only a couple pieces away from being a contender next season.
"The first job, and Gregg as outlined this, is to focus on the First Team and to focus on the roster," he explained. "There's a lot of really good pieces in place and we aren't far off from getting from where we want to get to. The challenge is the timing of when Gregg, Josh [Wolff] and I are coming in. The team has already finished practicing. We've all had a chance to watch the team on tape, but it's not the same of knowing the personalities in the locker room and seeing training and figuring out the exact pieces we need.
"Gregg made it a priority to reach out to the players and get a better sense of them and what they hope to accomplish next year. It's just a matter of figuring out the couple of pieces that we're missing and then what's the best way to go about getting those pieces."
Like Berhalter, it was the community of Columbus and the ambition of Owner-Operator and Chairman Anthony Precourt that sealed the deal of bringing Mendelsohn to the Crew. Mendelsohn experienced the community first hand organizing fan events during the U.S. National Team's 2014 FIFA World Cup Qualifier against Mexico in Columbus last September.
"It comes down to the people," he said. "It's the people within the organization. It starts with Mr. Precourt and the vision he's outlined for the organization to create a consistent winner that's built through a process and connected to the community. It goes down to Gregg who is someone I know and trust and have faith that he'll do a great job in this role. And I'll help him to achieve that. It trickles down the organization and outside the organization.
He added: "[The fan events surrounding USA-Mexico] gave me a really good exposure to the people of Columbus and I was really impressed. I think there's a great sense of community and I can tell the people of Columbus take a lot of pride in what they do.
"There's a real respect for craftsmanship and the process, but it's not at the sacrifice of being good people and contributing members of the community."
Cody Sharrett: It's always tough to let guys go. What went into some of the roster decisions that were made today?
Gregg Berhalter: First of all, we analyzed the financial situation in terms of the salary cap and where these players stand in relation to that. That's what a lot of these decisions are based on.
CS: Three players are out of contract and the Crew is expected to extend offers to all three. How much of a priority is it to bring back the team's leading scorer Dominic Oduro, as well as a talented young defender in Josh Williams and veteran goalkeeper in Andy Gruenebaum?
GB: They're all guys that we'd like [on the team] moving into the future. They've meant a lot to the club. Dominic has had an outstanding last few years. Josh is a player with big potential and Andy is a veteran with leadership. They're all key pieces in our mind.
CS: The Waiver and Re-Entry Drafts take place in the coming weeks. We don't know all the names that will be available in those drafts, but how can you use those methods to start adding pieces for 2014?
GB: We're going to look at that. We'll be patient. Sometimes in the Re-Entry Draft, you might be paying top dollar for a guy that might be going the other way. We're going to really analyze that carefully before we make a decision.
CS: With these roster moves, you free-up a lot of last year's payroll, in addition to the the recent retirement of Eddie Gaven. Talk about the cap flexibility the Crew has and how can it help shape the roster for 2014.
GB: The motivation for all these moves is to give us flexibility without disturbing the core. That's important for us. We want to be able to make moves when we feel the player is right. That's what we're doing right now, freeing-up space.
CS: You've been doing a lot of college scouting since you've arrived here in Columbus. The Crew holds the fourth overall pick in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft. Will you look to hold onto that? Is there a can't-miss player? Or will you explore trading the pick?
GB: We'll look into everything, but what I'll say is that with that pick, we can get a player that can help us immediately. We value that pick. Having the fourth pick again in the Second Round, you can get decent depth in the Draft.
COLUMBUS –The Columbus Crew announced today that it has exercised the contract options on 14 players from its 2013 roster, while four others were already under contract for next season, giving the club a roster that currently features 18 players.
The Crew picked-up the options of goalkeepers Matt Lampson and Daniel Withrow; defenders Chad Barson, Eric Gehrig and Tyson Wahl; midfielders Bernardo Anor, Ethan Finlay, Kevan George, Justin Meram, Shawn Sloan, Ben Speas and Tony Tchani; and forwards Ryan Finley and Aaron Schoenfeld.
The Black & Gold simultaneously announced that it has declined the contract options of defenders Drew Beckie, Glauber, Kyle Hyland; defender/midfielder Danny O’Rourke; midfielder Konrad Warzycha; and forward Jairo Arrieta. Contract options were also declined on midfielder Matias Sanchez and forward Aaron Horton, a move that was previously announced in October. Both players are eligible for next week’s MLS Waiver Draft, taking place on Monday, November 25.
“The process of building our 2014 roster is now underway,” said Crew Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter. “Unfortunately, as part of that process difficult decisions are required. While we’ve declined options on certain players, we will continue conversations with those individuals to potentially return to the club next season. We look forward to shaping the team in the weeks ahead of preseason training camp.”
O’Rourke is eligible for the MLS Re-Entry Process, which begins after MLS Cup on December 7. A full list of players eligible for the Re-Entry Process will be announced by MLS at a later date.
Goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum, forward Dominic Oduro and defender Josh Williams are out of contract. The Crew is currently in discussions with all three players, and future roster announcements will be made in the coming weeks.
The Crew’s current roster follows:
Goalkeepers (2): Matt Lampson, Daniel Withrow
Defenders (5): Chad Barson, Eric Gehrig, Chad Marshall, Agustin Viana, Tyson Wahl
Midfielders (8): Bernardo Anor, Ethan Finlay, Kevan George, Justin Meram, Shawn Sloan, Ben Speas, Tony Tchani, Wil Trapp
Forwards (3): Federico Higuain, Ryan Finley, Aaron Schoenfeld