Columbus Crew SC has sent three players on loan for the weekend the club announced on Friday morning. Goalkeeper Jon Kempin and midfielder Luis Argudo are joining Hartford Athletic and rookie forward JJ Williams will head to Birmingham Legion FC, where he will join his Crew teammate Edward Opoku who is also on loan. Both teams are members of the USL Championship, the second division of professional soccer in the United States, just under Major League Soccer.
“We sent a few other guys out to get games this weekend because we knew they couldn’t be on the bench,” Crew head coach Caleb Porter said on Thursday. “That’s because, without a reserve team, we need to continue to get guys games.”
All three of these Black & Gold players have struggled to find minutes in 2019. Williams has seen the most time, making his professional debut against the Philadelphia Union for 35 minutes in a 3-0 loss when Columbus was without five of its usual starters. Selected 18th overall in this year’s SuperDraft out of Kentucky, Williams has been on the bench for all but one — last week’s 1-0 victory over the New England Revolution — of Columbus’ games this year but played just once.
Argudo also made his season debut by coming off the bench against the Union for 25 minutes. Despite his position flexibility as a winger or central midfielder, Argudo has not seen much playing time since he was selected 67th overall by the Crew in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft due to depth. In his rookie season, Argudo played in 18 games but made just six starts for a total of 630 minutes.
Kempin is yet to feature for the Black & Gold in 2019. He was acquired ahead of the 2017 season in a trade with the LA Galaxy as the backup to starting goalkeeper Zack Steffen. Kempin played in five games, all starts, for Columbus last year while Steffen was away on international duty, recording 10 saves and allowing eight goals. With Steffen moving to Manchester City in July, Kempin is in a battle with Joe Bendik, who was acquired this offseason, to become the eventual Crew starter. It was Bendik who started in the loss to Philadelphia, allowing three goals.
After playing on a weekly basis to start the 2019 MLS slate, the Black & Gold have a congested schedule over the next month with two stretches of three games in eight days. Porter admitted that sending these players on loan is an indication that, while they may not have made the game day squad for this Saturday’s trip to the Montreal Impact, they will be needed in the near future.
“Also that’s keeping our eye on the weeks ahead where we have a three in eight days and then (a week) later, another three in eight days,” Porter said. “So we’re going to need to rotate and we need to keep these guys sharp and fit and the best way to do that is to get them out. Those guys will go out and they’ll come right back next week.”
The Crew plays the Portland Timbers at home on April 20 — a game in which MLS will celebrate Earth Day with new Parley jerseys — before hosting D.C. United four days later. The midweek game is followed by a trip to the Houston Dynamo on April 27. Columbus will go back to a normal training week before going to D.C. on May 4. That begins another busy week with the LA Galaxy coming to MAPFRE Stadium on May 8 and Los Angeles Football Club visiting town on May 11.