Columbus Crew SC has added another defender to its ranks. The Black & Gold made a trade with Major League Soccer expansion side Inter Miami on Friday to acquire Grant Lillard. In exchange, the Crew will send a third round pick in the 2021 MLS SuperDraft to Miami for the central defender.
Lillard, 24, has spent all three of his professional seasons in MLS, beginning the year with Inter after two seasons with the Chicago Fire. A Homegrown product for the Fire, Lillard signed with the first team in January of 2018, making 14 total appearances for the Men in Red before he was traded to the expansion side in November of last year.
“Grant is a promising, young defender who brings MLS experience to our defensive corps,” Crew president and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko said of the deal. “His addition will help strengthen our roster depth as we continue to build a team that can compete for trophies, especially with the unique challenges we will face over the remainder of the season. We are happy to welcome Grant to Columbus and look forward to working with him to continue his development as our season resumes on Aug. 20.”
As a rookie in 2018, Lillard made eight appearances, including six starts, for a struggling Chicago side that finished with an 8-18-8 and in 10th place in the Eastern Conference. The defender actually made his debut against the Crew in a 1-0 win for the Fire four games into the season.
Lillard was used less frequently last season for Chicago. The defender made just four appearances, with two starts, as part of a group that improved, going 10-12-12 and conceding 14 fewer goals, but still missed out on the MLS Cup playoffs.
In November, Lillard was dealt to Inter Miami in exchange for $75,000 in General Allocation Money. The third-year player did not make an appearance for Miami in the regular season or the MLS is Back Tournament following the COVID-19 break in the year.
Prior to joining the Fire’s first team, Lillard played four seasons at Indiana University, starting all 86 games he featured in while scoring 14 goals and registering nine assists. Lillard was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2014 and the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 2017. The defender was a first-team All-Big Team honoree as a sophomore, junior and senior, was voted a first-team All-America by the United Soccer Coaches during his final season and was a MAC Herman Trophy finalist, awarded to the best player in college soccer, in 2017.
With the Crew, Lillard will likely provide depth at the center back position after the injury to starting defender Vito Wormgoor in the first game of the MLS is Back Tournament. He will join captain Jonathan Mensah, Josh Williams and Aboubacar Keita at the position for the Black & Gold.
The Black & Gold are expected to complete a trade on Friday that will send central defender Axel Sjoberg to D.C. United in exchange for winger Emmanuel Boateng. The Lillard deal gives Columbus its full complement of four center backs once that trade is complete.