MLS NEXT Pro names Columbus Crew 2’s Jacen Russell-Rowe the league’s Most Valuable Player for the 2022 2022 season on Friday. This comes after Russell-Rowe, who split time between the Black & Gold’s first and reserve teams, won the MLS NEXT Pro Golden Boot and helped Columbus to the best regular season record and a spot in Saturday’s MLS NEXT Pro Cup Final.
When asked if he thought anyone else could win this award, Crew 2 head coach Laurent Courtois said, “I don’t see how anyone could get it besides Jacen, but good luck.” With 21 regular season goals and four assists, five more goals and four more assists than North Texas SC’s Bernard Kamungo, Russell-Rowe was clearly the frontrunner.
An incredible stat that showed just how much Russell-Rowe meant to the Eastern Conference champions was that in 21 matches played, Russell-Rowe only lost once and that was the Black & Gold’s first match of the season against Inter Miami II. In the five matches Russell-Rowe did not played in, Columbus lost two and three in penalty kick shootouts. Every single win Crew 2 managed this year saw Russell-Rowe take the field.
Heading into the last match of the MLS NEXT Pro regular season, Russell-Rowe had only a single-goal advantage in the Golden Boot race. In that match, Russell-Rowe showed just how voracious a goal scorer he is, scoring four times, two of which came in the final minutes to put the home side up 9-0 against rivals FC Cincinnati 2 and secured the Golden Boot.
Before joining the Black & Gold, Russell-Rowe began his career in the Toronto FC Academy but struggled to break through as other talented strikers saw more success. After only playing in two matches with the TFC’s lower division teams, Russell-Rowe went to the University of Maryland for college, playing 26 matches for the Terrapins and scoring four goals in his one season.
After the launch of MLS NEXT Pro, Columbus hired Corey Wray, who was previous with the TFC academy, to be the Crew 2 general manager. Wray brought Russell-Rowe to the Black & Gold for Crew 2’s inaugural season. Russell-Rowe has been rewarded for all his hard work with a first-team contract, truly an MLS NEXT Pro success story.
Crew 2 has won the most awards as a team and as individuals this season. Russell-Rowe now is the MLS NEXT Pro MVP and Golden Boot winner, Courtois won Coach of the Year, Patrick Schulte was named Goalkeeper of the Year and Russell-Rowe, Schulte, defender Mohamed Farsi and midfielder Isaiah Parente were named to the MLS NEXT Pro Best XI.
The Black & Gold will look to add another trophy when they host St. Louis CITY2 for the MLS NEXT Pro Cup Saturday, October 8th. That game at Lower.com Field is scheduled to kick off at 1:30 p.m. ET.