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What can the Crew expect from Lillard, Boateng?

The new additions arrive in Columbus with different perspectives

SOCCER: JUN 29 MLS - LA Galaxy at San Jose Earthquakes Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Columbus Crew SC announced on Friday a couple of additions to its roster for the remainder of the 2020 Major League Soccer season as the Black & Gold acquired center back Grant Lillard and winger Emmanuel Boateng via trades.

Lillard and Boateng were brought through different trades with the Crew sending its third-round pick at the 2021 MLS SuperDraft to Inter Miami in exchange for the 24-year-old defender and shipping center back Axel Sjoberg to D.C. United to get the 26-year-old Ghanaian winger.

Even though these were separate trades, they were clearly connected from a strategic standpoint as the Black & Gold obviously saw the need to add a new piece to its defensive depth after letting Sjoberg go to get Boateng in a deal that was first reported on Wednesday and made an inexpensive move for Lillard.

Miami was probably a good place to look, as the expansion team is crowded with talented Central and South American center backs in Argentineans Nicolas Figal and Leandro Gonzalez Pires, Colombian Andres Reyes, Venezuelan Christian Makoun and Panamanian Roman Torres.

But what can these two new pieces offer to the Crew?

Starting with Lillard, the answer is depth. With Vito Wormgoor sidelined for the remainder of the season after undergoing foot surgery, the Crew would have been thin in central defense with only captain Jonathan Mensah, veteran Josh Williams and Homegrown product Aboubacar Keita available after Sjoberg’s departure. The Swedish defender didn’t play a single match for the Crew but was ready if needed and that’s exactly what head coach Caleb Porter and coaching staff expect from Lillard. The 6-foot-4 defender also didn’t see the field during his first six months with Inter and was used in just 12 matches for the Chicago Fire during the 2018 and 2019 season.

Lillard entered Major League Soccer ahead of the 2018 season as a highly-touted prospect after having a prolific collegiate career at Indiana University. His limited playing time indicates he never fulfilled those expectations, but, at 24, he could still do so and will find a structured team in Columbus to continue develop without the pressure of having to perform every week.

As a left-footed defender, Lillard is most likely to be deployed on the left side of Columbus’ two center backs and he’s probably now the fourth option in Porter’s pecking order. He will at least have a chance to compete with either Williams or Aboubacar for a spot on the bench every week.

Boateng, on the other hand, arrives in Columbus with higher prospects of playing meaningful minutes for the Crew. During his six-year MLS career, the Ghanaian has been on and off the bench for D.C. and the LA Galaxy and showed he can be reasonably useful for teams in this league. His numbers aren’t necessarily impressive with nine goals and 13 assists in 111 regular season matches, but Boateng has had promising flashes, especially in 2017, when he registered four goals and two assists in 29 starts for the Galaxy.

He won’t bring anything different style-wise for the Crew as his characteristics are very similar to what Porter already has in Luis Diaz and Derrick Etienne Jr. but will provide another offensive alternative for Black & Gold due to his ability to play on the left and stretch the field with his dominant left foot.

As it was clear during the MLS is Back Tournament, the Crew doesn’t have a clear solution for when Youness Mokhtar is out. The Dutch winger should miss only a couple more weeks after he sustained an injury in Orlando, but the Black & Gold were clearly disjointed on the wings after he went down.

Pedro Santos is way more productive when he plays on the right, which he’s able to do when Mokhtar is on the field. With Diaz, who struggles on the left, he typically switches sides and loses part of his firepower, most notably his ability to draw fouls and finish from long distance. Etienne could be another option to fill that spot, but he never performed at a high enough level to make the coaching staff comfortable to have him as the only option to replace Mokhtar on the left.

Porter and his staff hope that Boateng’s pace and dribbling ability add another element to the Crew’s offense and allow Santos to remain on his preferred right side more often. The Ghanaian is probably not going to be a difference-maker and might even not leave the bench in several matches, but the Black & Gold might have gotten another offensive piece at virtually no cost.