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Crew 2 sends Justin Malou to FC Tulsa

The Black & Gold defender will hope to continue his young career in the USL Championship.

Columbus Crew 2 v New England Revolution II

With Columbus Crew 2 winning the first-ever MLS NEXT Pro Championship, as well as finishing first in the regular season, it comes as no surprise that other teams have taken interest in a few of the team’s players. On Tuesday, one departed as FC Tulsa acquired the rights to defender Justin Malou.

A landmark transfer for both clubs, Malou became the first Crew 2 player to transfer to the USL Championship and the first player in which Tulsa has paid a transfer fee. The terms of the deal were not disclosed. Malou joins Tulsa head coach Blair Gavin, a former Crew assistant coach under former head coach Caleb Porter.

The former Clemson Tiger became a consistent starter under Crew 2 head coach Laurent Courtois last year, starting 16 total games and totaling 22 appearances across the regular season and MLS NEXT Pro playoffs. Malou primarily lined up as a right central defender, which is the position he started in the MLS NEXT Pro championship game.

Columbus acquired Malou via the MLS Superdraft in 2021 where the was the No. 27 overall pick out of Clemson. Malou opted to play an additional season for the Tigers instead of joining the Black & Gold, helping Clemson win a national title in 2021. Instead of signing with the senior team, Malou signed a Crew 2 contract for the inaugural MLS NEXT Pro season of 2022.

A proven championship winner on his last two teams, FC Tulsa looks to bolster the roster after missing the playoffs in 2022. Tulsa finished in eighth place in the USL Championship Eastern Conference with 42 points, 12 points behind Detroit City FC, one place out of postseason contention.

The transfer of Malou comes a day after Crew 2 announced the team’s end-of-the-year roster decisions and provides more clarity for the direction of the team in 2023. Jacob Erlandson, Ariel Mbumba, and Abdirizak Mohamed are the only defenders currently on the roster for Columbus. The Black & Gold and center back Philip Quinton are in negotiations for a new contract.

In his debut season, Courtois preferred to play with three central defenders and new senior team head coach Wilfred Nancy has used a three-man backline at times. A few central defender signings are to be expected this offseason. Currently, the Crew only has Jonathan Mensah, Milos Degenek and Josh Williams on the roster as center backs, and none are expected to be loaned down to Crew 2 for any significant time.

The Black & Gold led the MLS NEXT Pro in goal differential and tied with Houston Dynamo 2 for the least number of goals allowed last year with 22. Many teams would view this as a successful defensive season, but Crew 2 will look to improve on this in the following season.

Forward Jacen Russell-Rowe and wingback Mohamed Farsi were both signed to first-team contracts during the 2022 season. Nancy will need to determine how he sees them fitting in with the senior team, or if there is more development needed down in MLS NEXT Pro. Both players played significant roles for Crew 2 last season, especially offensively. Without either Russell-Rowe or Farsi, Crew 2 may see less attacking possession making solidifying the defense a larger priority.

Columbus Crew 2’s 2022 roster:

Defenders (3): Jacob Erlandson, Ariel Mbumba, Abdirizak Mohamed

Midfielders (4): Coleman Gannon, Marco Micaletto, Stephen “Nana” Tuffour, Aidan Wolf

Forwards (3): Noah Fuson, Jordan Knight, Zion Scarlett