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The Crew signs James Igbekeme for a 2022 season loan

Valencia CF v Real Zaragoza - Friendly Match Photo by Silvestre Szpylma/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

On Wednesday, the Columbus Crew added a veteran presence to the team’s midfield with the loan announcement of James Igbekeme. Igbekeme joins the Crew from from Spanish Segunda División side Real Zaragoza for the 2022 season with an option to exercise a permanent transfer at the end of the loan period. Igbekeme will take up an international roster slot on the Black & Gold’s roster and will be complete once the player’s P-1 Visa and International Transfer Certificate are complete.

Igbekeme, known as “The Black Panther” by supporters and teammates, is an offensive-minded midfielder with good ability both off and on the ball. That speed allows Igbekeme to slow down offensive attacks of opponents, which is a trait not always synonymous with a midfield player. This ability is enticing to the Crew.

“James is a versatile midfielder, and his addition will help strengthen our roster,” Black & Gold president and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko said in the announcement of the signing. “He will provide us with another strong option in the midfield and his contributions will be seen on both sides of the ball. We look forward to welcoming James and his family to Columbus and look forward to incorporating him into our team.”

The 26-year-old midfielder’s addition to the club makes sense considering current injuries to veterans Artur and Perry Kitchen. Last week, in preseason media availability, head coach Caleb Porter alluded to making a midfield signing with the uncertainty surrounding Brazilian Artur’s nagging hip injury. It looks like Igbekeme is that signing.

Since 2018, the Nigerian midfielder, who is not currently a part of the national team setup, scored four goals in 96 matches for Real Zaragoza. Position-wise, he plays across the midfield, from central midfield to attacking midfield and even on the wings. Prior to his time in Spain, Igbekeme played in the Portuguese third division starting in 2013 at the age of 17.

Igbekeme’s nine years as a professional player won’t just help the club on the pitch, but in the development of the young group of midfielders on the senior team. Aidan Morris, Sebastian Berhalter and Sean Zawadzki all get to learn from a veteran and push to compete with him for a spot next to Darlington Nagbe in the starting lineup.

The Crew is currently training in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida as the United States Men’s National Team occupies the OhioHealth Performance Center prior to Thursday’s World Cup Qualifier at Field. Once the team returns to Columbus on Friday, the Black & Gold will train in Central Ohio until Feb. 6. From there, the Crew head to Charleston, South Carolina for the Carolina Challenge Cup.

Columbus welcomes the Vancouver Whitecaps FC to Field to begin the 2022 MLS season on Feb. 26.

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, James Igbekeme, 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