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2022 Crew season preview: Midfielders

The engine room of the Black & Gold should be improve in 2022 by just being healthy

Nashville SC v Columbus Crew SC Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Midfielders are not known for scoring flashy goals, but they are the engine room of the team. Defending in transition, completing passes to open the field in the final third and running all over the pitch is what a midfielder does.

After a year of Columbus Crew players nursing injuries, the Black & Gold need a healthy core of midfielders to distribute the ball to all parts of the field and help the backline earn clean sheets.

Let’s take a look at the 2022 Crew midfielders.

Marlon Hairston

After signing with Columbus during free agency in 2021, Hairston played an important role throughout the injury-ridden season, earning 1,305 minutes in his 21 games played.

Throughout last season, Hairston found himself paired with Darlington Nagbe in the central midfield, which came to be a reliable partnership. Hairston’s physical play style and defensive positioning may be his biggest attributes. He ended the season with 28 tackles and 25 fouls committed, where he helped anchor in the center of the park.

Hairston also played among the outside backs, showing his versatility but he rarely dropped form, as he completed over 90 percent of his passes throughout the season. Like last season, Hairston can be used as hard-working defensive midfielder or wingback in a pinch.

Perry Kitchen

Kitchen joined the Crew in free agency following the 2020 MLS season as well. He was set to make a strong midfield more versatile, aiding the team with veteran leadership after years in MLS.

Unfortunately, Kitchen only played five games for a total of 202 minutes before a back injury sidelined him for the remainder of the 2021 season.

In his previous MLS seasons with D.C. United and the LA Galaxy, Kitchen routinely played over 2,300 minutes per season, only not reaching that mark in two of his eight years at both clubs. Entering his 10th season, Kitchen’s experience should help him get back to his former self as a physical midfielder once fully healthy, which won’t be right away.

Aiden Morris

Unfortunately for Morris, the second-year pro didn’t make it to the regular season in 2021, tearing his ACL against Real Estelí during the Round of 16 home leg in the CONCACAF Champions League.

Previously, Morris impressed as a rookie in the 2020 MLS Cup Final, helping beat Seattle 3-0 when Nagbe was out due to health and safety protocols. If Morris can show he can return to the level of the end of 2020, he’ll be one of the best young midfielders in the league.

Darlington Nagbe

Coming up on his third season in Columbus, Nagbe showed why he’s one of the best midfielders in MLS. In his 11th year in the league, Nagbe led the team in minutes played, with 2,910, and completed pass percentage of 94.3 percent.

Nagbe controls the tempo of the team, oftentimes dictating the pace of the game through his vision on the field and precision of passes.

In 2021, Nagbe found himself pushed up the field into the attacking midfielder role at times in the absence of Lucas Zelerayan. When this happens, the Crew’s attack became more methodical, awaiting open space between the lines of the defense. Nagbe flourishes in this environment, where he can split defensive lines with a through ball or diagonal ball over the defense.

In 2022, look for Nagbe to continue making the same aggressive passes in between the backline. With the addition of a healthy midfield alongside him, Nagbe should stay home in the center of the park, but in a pinch can play in the attacking midfield.

Artur

Along with Morris, Artur didn’t play much in 2021 due to a sports hernia injury. Starting just five games and subbing on for one more, Artur was held to just 434 minutes throughout the season before needing surgery.

When healthy, Artur is a dynamic midfielder who is strong in the buildup and unlocking spaces for other players to exploit as well as being a mainstay in the starting lineup. This was evident in the 2020 MLS Cup playoffs, where Artur started all four games and scored the game-winning goal in the Eastern Conference Final.

Look for a rebound year for Artur, who made a surprisingly quick bounce back, returning to consistent playing and his 2020 championship level form.

James Igbekeme

Another addition for the Black & Gold this is season Igbekeme, who comes to Columbus on a year-long loan from Real Zaragoza in Spain. The 26 year old is known to be a bit more offensive and could act to help spark the attack from central midfield.

Igbekeme will likely begin the year as a depth piece, but could become a nice piece for the team as he settles in, after arriving in the middle of the preseason, especially as the Crew looks to use multiple formations, some that could see three central midfielders deployed.

Isaiah Parente

The Wake Forest alum and Crew Homegrown didn’t play much in 2021, with just six games played and two started.

Parente brings a youthful element to this midfield core. He’s quick and physical on the ball while his off-the-ball movement creates space for others in the midfield.

Parente wasn’t expected to play much in 2021, but given injuries to many players, he earned minutes. Entering his second year in the league, learning from players like Nagbe and Artur can help him to grow on the field, as will experience playing with Crew 2.

Sean Zawadzki

The Olmsted Falls, Ohio native is the Crew’s newest Homegrown signing in the midfield. In his senior year at Georgetown, Zawadzki captained the Hoyas to the NCAA national semifinals while tallying one goal and four assists on the season.

In the preseason, Zawadzki impressed the Black & Gold coaching staff, playing a combined 135 minutes in two games in the Carolina Challenge Cup, pairing with Morris.

While not expected to play much in his first season, an impressive preseason campaign and doing well in training could earn him minutes on the first team.

Other Crew 2022 positional previews

Attackers