As reported by Massive Report on Monday, Columbus Crew SC signed defender Aboubacar Keita to a Homegrown contract ahead of the 2019 season. The official word came from the club on Tuesday afternoon. Keita becomes the 12th Homegrown player in the Crew’s history and the third active player, joining midfielder Wil Trapp and defender Alex Crognale.
“We are excited to officially welcome Aboubacar to the First Team as he has long been a part of the Columbus Crew SC family,” team president Tim Bezbatchenko said in the press release. “It’s always a proud moment for the Club when an Academy player is able to make the transition onto the First Team, and it reinforces our belief about the long-term importance of investing in and developing Academy talent. This is a special day for Aboubacar, the Keita family and for the Crew.”
Keita has been a part of the Crew Academy since the 2016 season while attending Westerville North High School in the suburbs of Columbus. He played for the Academy at the Under-17/18 and Under-18/19 levels. Keita made 43 appearances, including 42 starts, for the Academy, scoring one goal. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound defender joined the first team during the 2018 preseason, starting in the 2-1 win over the Charleston Battery as part of the Carolina Challenge Cup last February. Keita also spent a large portion of last summer training with the Black & Gold’s first team. He featured in a number of friendlies against various college teams and impressed the previous staff led by Gregg Berhalter.
Last fall, Keita played his freshman season at the University of Virginia. There, the defender started in every match for the Cavaliers, scoring one goal and helping his team to a 10-4-3 overall record. Despite losing in the first round of the ACC Tournament to Pittsburgh, the Cavaliers made a run to NCAA Tournament’s third round before falling 1-0 to Notre Dame in overtime. In total, Keita helped UVA to 10 regulation shutouts in his one year in Charlottesville. The defender logged 1,599 minutes in his lone college season and was named to all-freshman team in the ACC and Top Drawer Soccer’s second-team Freshman Best XI.
Keita has represented the United States at the youth nationally team level. He featured for both the U.S. Under-19 and Under-20 teams and recently earned a call-up for the U-20 training camp.
As a Homegrown player, Keita will not count against the team’s salary cap until he is placed on the senior roster. Homegrown players must have been in an MLS team’s academy system for at least one year and have met the necessary training and retention requirements before they can sign their professional contract. The Homegrown system was created by Major League Soccer to allow clubs to sign players from their youth system without them having to go through the SuperDraft process.
Keita joins a crowded central defender room with the Crew. The Black & Gold now have six central defenders on the roster with Keita, Crognale, Jonathan Mensah, Josh Williams, Lalas Abubakar and Gaston Sauro. Jonathan, Abubakar and Williams were the three rotational starters last year under Berhalter. Sauro worked his way into the rotation toward the end of the season after recovering from a serious knee injury. Crognale spent a large portion of 2018 on loan to Orange County SC of the USL.
The Crew are set to begin preseason training on Wednesday at SuperKick in Lewis Center, Ohio. On Friday, Jan. 25, the Black & Gold will travel to Chula Vista, California for the first part of its preseason camp. Columbus will remain in California until Feb. 6 before returning to Columbus until Feb. 12 when the team departs for Charleston, South Carolina to participate in the 2019 Carolina Challenge Cup. Massive Report will be in attendance for both scheduled days of preseason training in Columbus and will have updates throughout the preseason.