Prior to the start of the 2023 MLS SuperDraft, the Columbus Crew had only one draft slot in the first round with the No. 14 overall pick, which the team used to take forward Maximilian Arfsten. In a surprise turn of events, the Crew then acquired the No. 27 overall pick from the Houston Dynamo via a trade of $50,000 in General Allocation Money.
With the No. 27 pick, the Black & Gold selected defender Xavier Zengue. The 6-foot senior was a standout player for the University of Dayton and was named second-team All-Southeast Region in his final season with the Flyers. Zengue was not the only Dayton player selected, as the Portland Timbers drafted Jaden Jones-Riley with the No. 73 pick in the SuperDraft.
Zengue lived overseas for most of his childhood and played for the academy team of a semi-professional team in Sri Lanka called Thaabit Ahmed Football Academy (TAFA). He also played for the varsity team of his school in Sri Lanka, The Overseas School of Colombo, as an eighth grader. Zengue moved to the United States during his freshman year of high school, where he resided in North Oaks, Minnesota and attended Mounds View High School, playing for their varsity team as well as the Minnesota Thunder Academy.
In four seasons at Dayton, Zengue played a total of 57 games for the Flyers, 51 of which he started. He racked up 4,573 minutes played while scoring twice and recording eight assists from defense.
In his freshman season in 2019, Zengue made his mark, starting all 21 matches for Dayton and logging 1,929 minutes, the most in the team. Zengue provided a creative spark as well with five assists and ultimately being named to the Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team. The Flyers finished third in the A-10 standings with a 6-2-0 conference record while going 13-8-0 overall. The Flyers fell to a 1-0 defeat against Rhode Island in the A-10 Championship.
During the 2020-21 season, which was altered by the COVID-19 pandemic, Zengue made two appearances as a substitute, playing 32 minutes. Dayton finished first in the A-10 standings with a 4-1-1 conference record and reached the A-10 tournament semifinals, losing to George Washington 1-0.
As a junior in the 2021 season, Zengue bounced back, appearing in 17 games and starting 13 while recording two assists. The Flyers finished ninth in the A-10 standings with a 6-9-3 overall record and made it to the A-10 tournament quarterfinals, though they were beaten 2-0 by eventual champions Saint Louis University.
Zengue had arguably his most promising season yet as a senior at Dayton. Zengue started in all 17 of his appearances as he logged 1,526 minutes, the second-most on the team. Zengue was named the No. 56 Prospect in the nation by Top Drawer Soccer. In addition to earning second-team All-Southeast Region honors, Zengue was selected first-team All-Ohio and Academic All-Ohio, in addition to second-team All-Conference. Dayton placed fourth in the A-10 standings last year with a 3-2-3 conference record, going 10-2-5 overall. The Flyers made it to the quarterfinals of the A-10 tournament, losing to eventual champions Saint Louis 3-1 on penalty kicks after a 1-1 tie in regulation time.
Columbus has several solid central defenders on the team’s roster already, including Miloš Degenek, Jonathan Mensah and Josh Williams. It will be interesting to see where Zengue will fit in, though it is possible he will spend time with Crew 2, who were the 2022 champions of the inaugural MLS NEXT Pro developmental league, similar to MLS SuperDraft pick Philip Quinton a year ago.