With the 2021 campaign well in the rearview mirror after not making the MLS Cup playoffs, the Columbus Crew made the team’s first major announcement of the offseason on Wednesday. The club announced its roster decisions on players who were either out of contract or had team options.
The Crew elected to exercise its team options on nine players, while nine others remain under contract. This leaves the roster at 18 players as the Black & Gold move into a crucial period for the club.
“Every year our goal is to qualify for the playoffs and contend for championships,” said Crew president and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko said in a statement. “While we did not make the playoffs this year, the team finished the season on a strong note. We have a solid core of players around whom we can build on, and we are excited to welcome them back next season. Preseason is right around the corner and the work has already begun to prepare for improved results in the 2022 season.”
Columbus announced the team exercised the options of regular starters in defender Josh Williams, midfielder Marlon Hairston and forward Gyasi Zardes. Despite battling injuries throughout the year, Williams played in 18 games, 14 starts, and Zardes played in 21 games, 18 starts, for the Crew in 2021. Hairston, who was originally acquired as a reserve right back, found a home in the center of midfield, starting 16 of his 21 games played.
Additionally, the Black & Gold exercised options on defender Aboubacar Keita and fullback Steven Moreira, wingers Luis Diaz and Derrick Etienne Jr., midfielder Isaiah Parente and forward Miguel Berry. Moreira was acquired late in the season but became the team’s starting right back, playing in seven games and recording three assists. Etienne and Berry each had breakout years for the club. Etienne made a career-high 21 starts with a goal and five assists. Berry emerged as a goal scorer when called upon, finishing the year with eight goals in 18 games, nine starts.
The other nine players that remain under contract are center back and captain Jonathan Mensah, wingers Alexandru Matan and Kevin Molino as well as midfielders Artur, Sebastian Berhalter, Perry Kitchen, Aidan Morris, Darlington Nagbe and Lucas Zelarayan.
Columbus announced that the club extended offers to goalkeeper Eloy Room, defender Milton Valenzuela and midfielder Pedro Santos, whose contracts all expire in 2021. Bezbatchenko and head coach Caleb Porter both expressed a desire to bring all three players back for 2022. Massive Report was told by a club source that Room will be back with the club. Santos said during his exit interview that he intends on remaining in Columbus next season.
The Crew elected to decline the contract options for goalkeeper Eric Dick, fullbacks Waylon Francis and Saad Abdul-Salaam, center back Vito Wormgoor and forwards Erik Hurtado and Bradley Wright-Phillips. Additionally, midfielder Liam Fraser has returned to Toronto FC following his season-long loan with the Black & Gold where he played in 23 games. Goalkeeper Evan Bush, fullback Harrison Afful and center back Grant Lillard are out of contract. The club is in discussions with select players about returning in 2022.
Columbus Crew 2022 roster
Defenders: Aboubacar Keita, Jonathan Mensah, Steven Moreira, Josh Williams
Midfielders: Artur, Sebastian Berhalter, Luis Diaz, Derrick Etienne Jr., Marlon Hairston, Perry Kitchen, Alexandru Matan, Kevin Molino, Aidan Morris, Darlington Nagbe, Isaiah Parente, Lucas Zelarayan
Forwards: Miguel Berry, Gyasi Zardes