Last week, it was reported by multiple outlets that the Columbus Crew was set to sign Australian center back Miloš Degenek. Monday, the Crew made the move official.
Degenek is the next center back to join the Black & Gold after Columbus signed free agent Jalil Anibaba on Jan. 14. The 27 year old signed a contract through the 2023 season with options through 2025.
The Serbian-born Degenek spent the past three seasons in his native country with Red Star Belgrade. For supporters that pay attention to the European Champions League, Red Star will sound familiar. In the past three seasons, Degenek and Belgrade have taken the field against worldwide clubs like Liverpool, Paris Saint-Germain and Tottenham. Now Degenek will play for the Crew.
“Milos is a center back who brings championship experience and leadership to our squad,” Black & Gold president and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko said in the release announcing the signing. “In addition to winning domestic and continental titles at the club level, Milos has earned valuable experience with the Australian National Team, including the 2018 World Cup. We believe his attributes will serve him well in our league and look forward to seeing him make an impact in our team.”
It is safe to assume that Degenek is coming to the Crew to start. A player of his caliber doesn’t come from Champions League and international competition to fight for a position. Degenek brings speed and strength to the role, with the ability to make offense-minded passes, something that will work well in head coach Caleb Porter’s system.
Degenek’s family emigrated to Australia in 2000 when Degenek was a child. That allowed him to join the Australian National Team. In 2018, Degenek made the World Cup squad but didn’t play in the team’s three group stage matches. Speaking recently with ESPN, Degenek said he looks at joining the Crew to stay fit for the 2022 World Cup, and not only get Australia to the tournament but get tournament experience on the field.
“Because the World Cup is on this year I want to give myself the best possible chance to stay fit, and obviously prolong my career as well,” said Degenek.
Instead of signing another player in his early-to-mid 30s, Columbus secured the talents of a player still in his prime years who has World Cup-level goals.
Degenek is not joining the team right away since this week starts the international break. Instead, he’s in Melbourne, Australia, preparing for World Cup Qualification. Currently, the Australian Socceroos sit third in the Group B table of the Asian Football Confederation. The top two teams qualify for the World Cup, with the third place from each of the two groups facing off in a playoff to then compete with other confederations for a World Cup spot. Australia is back just a single point behind second place, with four matches remaining.
Columbus continues working in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida until Friday. After a brief stint in Columbus, the Crew head back south, this time to Charleston, South Carolina for the Carolina Challenge Cup. Supporters have just 32 days before the MLS regular season begins. The Black & Gold welcome the Vancouver Whitecaps on Jan. 26, at Lower.com Field.
2022 Columbus Crew roster:
Goalkeepers: Evan Bush, Eloy Room, Patrick Schulte, Brady Scott
Defenders: Jalil Anibaba, Milos Degenek, Jonathan Mensah, Steven Moreira, Jake Morris, Will Sands, 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