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Crew to sign Red Star Belgrade defender Miloš Degenek

The Black & Gold adds a starting-caliber center back to their growing defense.

Crvena Zvezda v AC Milan - UEFA Europa League Round Of 32 Leg One Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images

An area of concern for the Columbus Crew going into the 2022 season was on defense. Thursday, it appears as if Columbus is making another move to help alleviate some of that concern, with the free transfer signing of Australian National Team member Miloš Degenek.

As reported by Columbus Dispatch’s Jacob Myers, the 27-year-old center back is set to join the Crew on a multi-year contract after spending four seasons with Red Star Belgrade, of the Serbian SuperLiga. Sources close to the club confirmed Myers report to Massive Report. Degenek brings a professional career of playing throughout lower leagues across the globe, Champions League competition and international experience.

With Red Star, Degenek helped the club to three straight league championships in Serbia’s top division. Because of their club’s success, Degenek’s played against some of the largest clubs in the world. The biggest moment of his Champions League career came during the 2018-19 campaign when the center back played all 90 minutes in a 2-0 victory against Liverpool.

Degenek is a 6-foot-1 defender who doesn’t shy away from contact. The center back takes on attackers and uses speed to fill space. Another positive, especially for a Black & Gold squad that plays out of the back, is Degenek’s passing. He can find open midfielders and attackers through his distribution. With Red Star Belgrade, Degenek’s averaged 82.5 percent passing accuracy over the past four seasons.

Coming too the Crew, Degenek joins Jonathan Mensah, Josh Williams and the recently signed Jalil Anibaba in the core of Columbus center backs. With Degenek’s age and international experience, competing for a starting position is a given.

This signing shows a goal the Black & Gold get back to their 2020 defensive form of giving up less than a goal per match on average. In 2021, that average jumped to 1.3 per match. That difference meant the world from winning the 2020 MLS Cup to not making the 2021 MLS Cup playoffs.

On paper, this looks a lot like what Columbus tried to do for their backline in 2020, when signing former Crew center back Vito Wormgoor. Injuries sidelined the defender from making a real impact in his two years with the club. Degenek comes with more international and domestic cup experience, plus he’s four years younger than Wormgoor when he joined the Crew.

Prior to his time in Serbia, Degenek’s played in lower leagues of Germany, Japan’s J1 League and even in Saudi Arabia.

Although Degenek was born in Serbia, his parents emigrated to Australia in 2000. That’s allowed the defender to grow up in the Australian youth system. Degenek’s represented Australia through World Cup Qualifying, FIFA Confederations Cup and Asian Cup. Australia included Degenek in the nation’s 2018 World Cup roster, but he didn’t make an appearance in Australia’s three group stage matches.

Columbus is currently in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, starting the team’s preseason in the sun until Feb. 28. After a brief stint back in Central Ohio, the Crew heads to Charleston, South Carolina for the Carolina Challenge Cup.