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State of the Crew roster: Early February

As we get closer to the 2021 MLS season, we take a closer look at the Black & Gold’s roster.

Seattle Sounders FC v Columbus Crew SC: - MLS Cup Final Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

The Columbus Crew ended the 2020 season with a strong roster that brought home the club’s second ever MLS Cup and kept most of that group intact during the offseason contract moves. Columbus continued to improve the roster in the month since the last check-in.

Since the last update, the Black & Gold re-signed Waylon Francis and added Kevin Molino in early January. The team also finalized the signing of Re-Entry Draft goalkeeper selection Eric Dick and signed midfielder Isaiah Parente to a Homegrown contract.

In the MLS SuperDraft, the team selected defenders Justin Malou out of Clemson and Joshua Jackson-Ketchup from Ohio State. The duo is currently unsigned. Finally, the Crew finished off the month of January by bringing in veteran defensive midfielder Perry Kitchen.

With Dick signed, the Crew traded goalkeeper Jon Kempin to D.C. United and the team completed the rumored transfer of Chris Cadden to Motherwell.

Here is a look into the Crew’s roster as it stands:

Goalkeepers (4)

On Roster: Evan Bush (trade with Vancouver), Eric Dick (Re-Entry draft), Matt Lampson, Eloy Room

Departing: Andrew Tarbell (option declined; signed with Austin FC), Jon Kempin (traded to D.C. United)

The team officially shuffled the goalkeeping corps since the last installment. Kempin departed in a trade to D.C. while Dick signed with the team after being selected in the Re-Entry draft. Room remains the starter with Bush as his deputy. Lampson provides a steady veteran presence in reserve. Dick is a low-risk, higher-upside younger backup.

Defenders (8)

On Roster: Harrison Afful, Aboubacar Keita, Grant Lillard, Jonathan Mensah, Milton Valenzuela, Josh Williams, Vito Wormgoor, Waylon Francis (free agent re-signing)

Departing: Hector Jimenez (free agent; signed with Austin FC), Chris Cadden (transfer to Hibernian FC)

Francis re-signed with the team and solidified the depth on the left side. Cadden departed, leaving the team thin at right back. The only right back under contract is the 34-year-old Afful.

Central Midfielders (6)

On Roster: Artur, Sebastian Berhalter, Aidan Morris, Darlington Nagbe, Isaiah Parente (Homegrown signing), Perry Kitchen (free agent signing)

Departing: Fatai Alashe (option declined)

Kitchen’s arrival adds a veteran player in midfield, one who specializes in the defensive midfield, No. 6 role. Kitchen was a starter for the LA Galaxy last year but likely is a rotational or matchup specific option on the Crew. Parente’s signing brings more depth to the middle of the field but is behind three veterans and a couple of young players with MLS playing time. The Black & Gold now have top performers in Nagbe and Artur as starters. Kitchen is a proven commodity, while Morris and Berhalter showed they can perform in MLS with their 2020 appearances. Parente likely will be brought along slowly.

Attacking Midfield (5)

On Roster: Lucas Zelarayan, Pedro Santos, Luis Diaz, Derrick Etienne, Jr., Kevin Molino (free agent signing)

Departing: Emmanuel Boateng (free agent) and Youness Mokhtar (option declined)

Molino is the big addition to the attacking group. Columbus can now shuffle in dangerous attackers across the midfield three as Molino can slot in on the wing or move centrally. With the high volume of games in 2021, the Crew won’t see much drop off as the team rotates players.

Forwards (3)

On Roster: Gyasi Zardes, Miguel Berry, Bradley Wright-Phillips (free agent signing)

Departing: Fanendo Adi (out of contract), Jordan Hamilton (option declined), Krisztian Nemeth (option declined)

The Crew has a quality starter and quality depth after the addition of Wright-Phillips. This is important with the volume of games and likelihood that Zardes is called up for U.S. National Team duty.

Reviewing Roster Holes

  1. Right back. Afful is 34 and showed signs of slowing down at times during 2020. He wasn’t quite the same two-way player as he was previously. The timeframe to look for another starting right back is rapidly approaching. Cadden’s transfer confirms he wasn’t the heir apparent to the position and Columbus now needs a backup for Afful as there is no depth behind him. The team’s two draftees are being looked at as options for the yet unannounced second team.
  2. Wing depth. The team has impact depth with Santos, Molino, Etienne Jr. and Diaz as MLS quality wingers. However, the team lacks depth beyond them. The team can target a prospect to bring along slowly with the current talent on the roster.
  3. Impact left winger. The Crew signed the impact left winger in MLS free agency in Molino. The team saw the hole in the roster, had a plan and executed it.
  4. Central midfield depth. Kitchen adds a solid defensive-minded midfielder and Parente fits in as someone who will sit at the end of the roster and has the familiarity with the Crew system to step in where needed.

Roster Composition (26 of 30 slots filled)

The team has 30 slots on the roster, broken into three different groups. The senior roster must have 18 players and may contain up to 20 who make over the senior minimum budget charge, which was $81,375 in 2020. These are the players that count against the Salary Budget.

Roster slots 21 through 30 do not count against the salary budget. The MLS roster rules contain the specifics of who can fill these spots, but typically it’s players who have a budget charge at the senior minimum salary ($81,375 in 2020). It can include players who are “bought down” to that level, including Homegrown players and Generation Adidas Players, who are subsidized through the league’s various mechanisms.

The final roster slots (25-30) are filled with players making the reserve minimum salary ($63,547 in 2020) or Homegrown players subsidized to that level. Additionally, they have to be 24 years or younger. Slots 25-28 can be used for any player making that amount, but slots 29 and 30 are reserved for Homegrown players only.

This section is in significant flux as some of the roster designations are due to change in the new year. Some supplemental players will see contract improvements that may move them to senior status or see their supplemental status shuffle.

Senior Roster (17 of 20 slots filled)

Afful, Bush, Artur, Diaz, Jonathan, Francis, Nagbe, Molino, Room, Santos, Valenzuela, Williams, Wormgoor, Wright-Phillips, Zardes and Zelarayan all make over the Senior Minimum and count against the salary budget. Kitchen made over $400,000 in the last salary release and even on the most cap-friendly deal, he will clear the Senior Minimum.

Supplemental Slots: Senior Minimum / 21-24 (4 of 4 filled)

The Crew had three of the senior supplemental spots filled with Etienne, Dick and Lampson make the Senior Minimum salary. Lillard was previously on the reserve roster, but is now 25 and has to move to the senior supplemental roster. Etienne’s solid year may earn him performance bonuses or a raise that sends him to the senior roster.

Supplemental Slots: Reserve Minimum / 25-28 + 2 Home Grown slots (5 of 6 filled)

The Crew currently has five players on the reserve supplemental roster, making less than the reserve minimum salary. These players include Homegrowns Keita, Morris, Parente, and Berhalter. Additionally, Berry is on the reserve supplemental roster.

Designated Players (3)

Gyasi Zardes, Lucas Zelarayan, Darlington Nagbe

Zardes and Nagbe are both eligible to be brought below the DP threshold via allocation money. This would give the Crew a chance to sign two additional DPs. Santos is already below the DP threshold via allocation money.

International Players (5 used - 8 slots total available)

Zelarayan, Santos, Room, Diaz, Wormgoor

There is a little flexibility for the Crew, who has three open international roster spots in 2021. Jonathan, Afful, Valenzuela, Artur and Wright-Phillips have green cards and don’t count against the International Players limit.

The team will have the standard eight international slots in 2021. The trades of an international roster slot to Atlanta for Nagbe expired. The trades for international roster slots from Colorado for Lalas Abubakar and from Inter Miami for Will Trapp also expired at the end of 2020.

With three open international slots, the Crew could look to trade some of these slots for this year in exchange for allocation money. The current market appears to be around $175,000 of General Allocation Money for a season’s use of an international slot.

Homegrown Players (4)

Aboubacar Keita, Aidan Morris, Sebastian Berhalter, Grant Lillard, Isaiah Parente

Parente joined on a Homegrown Player contract, Kieta, Morris and Berhalter remain on Homegrown deals and can be covered by the Homegrown player subsidy. Lillard was signed as a Homegrown by the Chicago Fire and is on his original contract.