It’s been a “rollercoaster of a season” for Columbus Crew 2 so far, with Laurent Courtois’s side finding themselves atop the MLS NEXT Pro Eastern Conference and third overall across league standings. Following an opening loss start to begin the inaugural season, Crew 2 are rolling as the winners of four straight matches, and have only allowed one goal in that streak.
For Courtois, establishing an identity has been important during their first five matchdays. Since their opening week loss, the group has established a mentality that has produced consistent results.
“It's good to see the guys trusting the process and buying into the identity that we want,” Courtois said.
That identity, if followed, will hopefully lead toward first-team opportunities with the Crew organization.
“Hopefully six months from now, one year from now, two years from now… the goal is to have those guys first-team ready. If each year we can go to the first team and whether they pick him or we offer them (and say) this guy did what he was supposed to, now can be a candidate – then we've done our job.”
Courtois is a former professional who competed in the top divisions of France, Spain, and England in Europe. The 43-year-old Frenchman also has an extensive resume in the United States with Chivas USA and the Los Angeles Galaxy as a player before retiring in 2014 to begin his coaching journey. He returned to his native Lyon, France upon retirement and worked with their youth academy from 2015 to 2018. The Frenchman then joined the Crew organization in 2019 and hasn’t looked back.
Now, he’s tasked with leading the Columbus Crew 2 side competing in MLS NEXT Pro. However, there’s more to life than just what happens on the pitch. Along with the title “manager” comes a manager’s philosophy.
Finding focus off the pitch
Courtois obviously hopes to see his players make it to the next level while under his watch and knows part of his job is helping them grow off the field as well.
“I was in a soccer bubble for 20 years and I didn't do much besides putting my cleats on. So that's the last thing that you want as an adult, so I want, we want, our kids to have a better idea of how to manage a budget, how to talk to media, how to prepare for what's next after soccer… talk a language, learn a skill – find something else besides soccer that drives you.
"So yeah, we tried to implement those,” Courtois said. “Hopefully in the next few months we'll be able to be more consistent so we can keep them busy. Also, (we do) not give them too much free time is also one goal. It's hard sometimes when you're a young pro and you have that much free time to figure out things. So, we try to find a balance between keeping them busy but also learning a skill”
Learning skills beyond soccer has been crucial to Courtois's mindset for life after the game. He knew that he wanted to branch out and reach outside his comfort zone, but it took some persuasion from teammates and a bit of curiosity on his end to a passion outside of the game, but not sports entirely.
Courtois has found a way to stay fit while having fun and experiencing something new with martial arts and yoga. While he does not believe he is very good at those, he does get enjoyment out of honing the crafts.
“I had a few friends that were in tune with Thai boxing and because we are soccer players, we like kicking stuff so it was an easier transfer, but… it hurts. And the friend, he was already into jujitsu before that, and he told me 'You won't be able to strike or be punched in the face for a long time so you might as well try to give this thing a shot.' and we tried and fell in love with it. It's a practice where you learn how to move your body and you learn about your limitations and your ability that you were not even aware of. So it became even more than just a sport. It's really a more profound philosophy behind it. So yeah, it's really something that helped me to balance my life.”
Courtois’ productivity and focus on his personal lifestyle away from the game have helped him grow both as a coach and as a human being. With his family away living in France while he coaches with Crew 2, it’s proved to be a bonding experience for him and his kids as well. His hopes are that through his personal experiences in finding growth off the pitch, he’ll inspire his young players to do the same.