The 2022 offseason is well underway for the Columbus Crew with the club already announcing roster moves and the re-signing of key players. On Monday, the Crew’s next step in the offseason took place when Major League Soccer announced the protected lists for teams in advance of the 2022 Expansion Draft for new side Charlotte FC.
For the Expansion Draft, each MLS team was permitted to protect up to 12 players. The Black & Gold elected to protect goalkeeper Eloy Room, defenders Jonathan Mensah, Steven Moreira and Milton Valenzuela, midfielders Artur, Luis Diaz, Alexandru Matan, Darlington Nagbe, Pedro Santos and Lucas Zelarayan and forwards Miguel Berry and Gyasi Zardes.
Additionally, Generation Adidas players who have not graduated from the program at the end of the 2021 MLS season and Homegrown Players ages 25 and under who were born in or after 1996 and were on a club’s roster at the end of the 2021 MLS season were automatically protected, meaning teams do not have to use a protected slot on them. For Columbus, this includes defender Aboubacar Keita and midfielders Sebastian Berhalter Derrick Etienne Jr., Aidan Morris and Isaiah Parente.
This means that five players currently on the Crew roster were left unprotected and available for Charlotte to select. These five players are goalkeeper Evan Bush, defender Josh Williams and midfielders Marlon Hairston, Perry Kitchen and Kevin Molino. Those who will not be under contract with Columbus in 2022 but were on the roster in 2021 available for selection include goalkeeper Eric Dick, defenders Saad Abdul-Salaam, Waylon Francis, Harrison Afful, Vito Wormgoor and Grant Lillard and forwards Bradley Wright-Phillips and Erik Hurtado.
The list of protected players doesn’t feature much in the way of surprises. While left back Milton Valenzuela’s contract expires at the end of 2021 and no new deal has been reached, the Black & Gold had to protect the 23-year-old left back or else risk losing his rights to Charlotte. This is a clear indication that Columbus would like to have Valenzuela back if the two sides can come to terms.
Protecting Diaz and Matan shows the belief that the young wingers can continue to develop in the Crew first team. Diaz, 23, has three goals and seven assists in two and a half seasons with the Crew, but scored just one goal last year. Matan, 22, completed his first season in MLS and his first outside his country in 2021 and showed promising moments but failed to score or assist.
Room is the team’s starting goalkeeper and recently re-signed with the team. Jonathan is the club’s captain and a stalwart on the backline. The Black & Gold certainly weren’t going to leave him unprotected. Moreira, who was acquired in the middle of last season, established himself as the first-choice right back.
While Artur missed most of the 2021 season with an injury, playing in just six games, the Brazilian remains a key piece to Columbus’ central midfield alongside Nagbe. Santos also recently re-signed with the club, while Zelarayan was the team’s Most Valuable Player in 2021.
Berry had a breakout season last year, scoring eight goals in 18 games. Head coach Caleb Porter said he considers Berry to be a starter, along with Zardes, heading into 2022.
The biggest surprise on the unprotected list is Williams. While the center back is 33 years old, he has been the starter alongside Jonathan when healthy the last two seasons. It is unlikely that Charlotte will take a player of that age, but Williams would bring championship experience and leadership to a new team.
Hariston too may come as a surprise. After he was initially acquired to serve as a project at right back, he played 21 games for the Crew in central midfield last year following injuries to Morris and Artur. With both of those players expected to be fully fit by the start of the 2022 season, this was a risk the Black & Gold were willing to take.
Molino played just 11 games for Columbus in his debut season while dealing with multiple injuries. The winger tore his ACL in late August and won’t be ready for the start of the new year.
The MLS Expansion Draft will take place Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET.