The Columbus Crew strengthened the team’s fullback depth on Saturday. Columbus adds 29-year-old Gahanna, Ohio raised Saad Abdul-Salaam.
“Saad is a defender whose versatility as a player and proven experience in our League will make him a valuable member of our squad, especially as we deal with match congestion this season,” team president and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko said in the press release. “We are excited to begin working with Saad and look forward to incorporating him into the team.”
Abdul-Salaam played in Major League Soccer last year with FC Cincinnati, starting five matches and appearing in eight. In 2020, he started at right-back for Cincinnati, playing 90 minutes in both the 4-0 Crew victory and 2-1 defeat against their Hell is Real rivals. He began his professional career playing in Texas in 2015 with the now-defunct San Antonio Scorpions of the North American Soccer League. The Scorpions dissolved at the end of that season and Abdul-Salaam used his MLS eligibility to enter the college entry draft.
Sporting Kansas City selected Abdul-Salaam 12th overall in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft. He started 46 matches and made 64 overall appearances, in three seasons in Kansas City. Offensively, he assisted on five goals and scored one.
Since 2017, Abdul-Salaam has been something of a journeyman throughout the United Soccer League and MLS. In 2018, he split time between Phoenix Rising (USL) and New York City FC. The next year, he began with Tacoma Defiance (USL) but quickly moved to the eventual 2019 MLS Cup championship-winning Seattle Sounders. Abdul-Salaam didn’t make a playoff appearance that season but started 11 matches.
In his 18 total appearances in Seattle, he played right back, left back and center back. That kind of flexibility will go a long way in giving current Crew fullbacks Harrison Afful and Milton Valenzuela time off between multiple 2021 competitions.
Head coach Caleb Porter and Abdul-Salaam have history collegiately too. The defender walked on at Akron, making the team in Porter’s final year with the Zips. Prior to college, Abdul-Salaam won a state soccer championship in 2009 with former Crew captain, Wil Trapp. During his senior season in 2011, he received an All-Ohio honorable mention, playing alongside former Columbus Homegrown center back Alex Crognale.
Abdul-Salaam’s addition to the fullback core comes at the right time. So far in 2021, the position has seen many different pairings in only two matches. Winger Derrick Ettiene Jr. and fullback Milton Valenzuela started the Real Esteli Leg 1 contest of the CONCACAF Champions League due to injuries to Afful and offseason acquisition Marlon Hairston. In the second leg, Afful returned to play 45 minutes. On the other side of the pitch was veteran Waylon Francis. When the normal partnership of Afful and Valenzuela needs a match off, Abdul-Salaam brings a similar veteran presence to Francis or Hairston.
The Crew starts its MLS season Sunday against the Supporters’ Shield winning Philadelphia Union. The match starts at 5:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1. Historic Crew Stadium will have 5,000 supporters in attendance, after selling out the match.