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The Crew signs free agent defender Jalil Anibaba

Anibaba swaps Nashville yellow for the Black & Gold

SOCCER: JUL 08 MLS - Atlanta United FC at Nashville SC Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Columbus Crew added defensive depth to the team’s roster on Friday by signing defender Jalil Anibaba. The former Nashville SC defender was a free agent and joins the Crew on a contract through the 2022 season with an option for 2023.

Anibaba is a 33 year old with 11 seasons of MLS experience. After spending his first three years with the Chicago Fire, Anibaba held stints with the Seattle Sounders, Sporting KC, the Houston Dynamo, the New England Revolution and Nashville SC the past two seasons. That type of experience is what Columbus looks to bring to town as the 2022 preseason begins Sunday.

“Jalil is a veteran player with more than a decade of experience in MLS, and his addition to our roster will help bolster the backline,” Crew president and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko said in the release announcing the signing. “Jalil is a leader on and off the field, and we’re pleased that a player with the breadth of his experience in MLS chose to sign with the Crew, and we look forward to having him join our team.”

Although Anibaba’s played predominantly in the center back role, he’s filled in at the fullback positions when called upon. That sort of flexibility on the defensive backline is crucial for the Black & Gold in 2022, as Alibaba’s just the fourth defensive player added to the Crew’s senior roster. He joins a duo of center backs in captain Jonathan Mensah and Josh Williams.

After being selected ninth in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft out of the University of North Carolina, Anibaba has been a consistent piece for his MLS teams. The California native started 214 MLS regular season matches, appearing in 240 gamesoverall. If his current streak of playing at least 2,500 minutes in each of the last three seasons continues, Anibaba will eclipse the 20,000-minute mark for regular season time on the pitch with the Crew.

In those minutes, Anibaba’s contributed offensively with seven goals and 15 assists across the MLS regular season and MLS Cup playoffs. Also, Anibaba’s been part of two Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup winning teams (2014 with Sporting and Seattle’s 2015 victory) alongside the 2015 Supporters’ Shield win with the Sounders.

Columbus’ newest defender also brings postseason experience. Anibaba started four playoff matches and made nine appearances across five years. His most impactful came in Houston’s 2017 run to the Western Conference semifinals, losing to eventual champions Seattle.

Off the field, Anibaba also makes an impact. He sits as an executive board member for Black Players for Change, an organization that works to bridge the racial equality gap in America. It’s a group that features over 170 MLS players, coaches and members of team staff. During the 2020 pandemic-impacted season, Black Players for Change marched onto the field of the MLS is Back Tournament in a show of solidarity. Also, players across the league wore special shirts to raise awareness and funds for multiple organizations that work in partnership with Black Players for Change.

The Black & Gold report to preseason on Sunday, Jan. 16, for two days of performance testing at the OhioHealth Performance Center. Columbus begins the 2022 MLS regular season campaign on Feb. 26, welcoming the Vancouver Whitecaps to Lower.Com Field.

Columbus Crew’s 2022 roster

Goalkeepers: Evan Bush, Eloy Room, Patrick Schulte, Brady Scott

Defenders: Jalil Anibaba, Jonathan Mensah, Steven Moreira, Josh Williams

Midfielders: Artur, Sebastian Berhalter, Luis Diaz, Derrick Etienne Jr., Marlon Hairston, Perry Kitchen, Alex Matan, Kevin Molino, Aidan Morris, Darlington Nagbe, Isaiah Parente, Pedro Santos, Yaw Yeboah, Sean Zawadzki, Lucas Zelarayan

Forwards: Miguel Berry, Gyasi Zardes