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Crew releases MLS Expansion Draft protected player list

The Black & Gold protect 12 players from Expansion Draft selection.

MLS: New England Revolution at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020 Major League Soccer season will feature two new teams. The League will add Inter Miami and Nashville SC and on Nov. 19, those two expansion sides will add players via MLS’s expansion draft. On Saturday, the league announced the list of each team’s current protected players.

Columbus Crew SC elected to use its full allotment of 12 protected players. The Black & Gold chose to protect forward Gyasi Zardes, midfielders Pedro Santos, Wil Trapp, Artur, the newly acquired Darlington Nagbe and Luis Diaz, defenders Jonathan Mensah, Milton Valenzuela, Chris Cadden, Lalas Abubakar, Harrison Afful and goalkeeper Eloy Room.

The Crew did not have to protect second-year forward JJ Williams or midfielder Edward Opoku as they are Generation Adidas players and are therefore automatically protected. Columbus also did not have to protect defenders Alex Crognale or Aboubacar Keita due to their Homegrown status. The Black & Gold has already declined the options of Opoku and Crognale.

While the above 16 players are protected and will remain on the Crew’s roster, there are a number of players available to Miami and Nashville. That list includes defenders Josh Williams and Waylon Francis, midfielder/defender Hector Jimenez, midfielders Youness Mokhtar and Luis Argudo and goalkeeper Jon Kempin.

Both Williams and Jimenez have become key depth pieces for the Black & Gold in recent years due to their versatility. Williams can play anywhere along the backline, while Jimenez has played nearly every position in the midfield and either outside back spot. That kind of versatility, as well as a relatively cheap cap hit, could be appealing to either Miami or Nashville.

Mokhtar joined Columbus in mid-July and made eight appearances, five starts to finish out the 2019 season. The winger, who was not on a roster for a few months before joining the Crew, began to find his form toward the end of the year, starting three of the last four games on the left win and scoring his first MLS goal.

Argudo had a breakout season in 2019. After playing in 18 games as a rookie two years ago, Argudo benefitted from a number of injuries for Columbus to play in 21 games and making 10 starts. The diverse midfielder scored his first professional goal last season and registered three assists for the Black & Gold.

Kempin battled with Joe Bendik to win the backup job behind starter Zack Steffen. Kempin didn’t make his first appearance in 2019 until mid-May but finished the season with three starts, four saves and four goals against.

The 2019 MLS Expansion Draft will occur on Nov. 19 at 5:30 p.m. ET. If Miami or Nashville selects a Crew player, no other member of the Black & Gold can be selected.