There’s a constant that stretches through sports fandom. A certain feeling. It’s that moment when a local kid signs with his local professional sports team. There’s an instant comradery for a player that grew up attending matches of the team and now sees a dream fulfilled wearing the same colors.
Columbus Crew 2 is full of Ohio athletes pursuing their childhood dreams, players looking to become the next Josh Williams or Wil Trapp. The Black & Gold selected Akron-born, Dayton-raised, center back Jacob Erlandson in the second round of the 2022 MLS SuperDraft. After excelling at the NAIA and NCAA Division I levels of collegiate soccer, Erlandson’s bringing confidence and more to the Crew.
Confidence isn’t something found on a stat sheet, or measured with data. There’s no expected confidence metric — at least not yet — but it’s something you know when you see it. Crew supporters saw it in Erlandson early in the preseason.
During a short preseason video compilation shared on the Crew’s Twitter account, a mystery player scored on a diving header where the player went parallel to the ground to drive a practice pass into the back of the net. That was Erlandson.
Unfortunately for Erlandson and supporters, that was the last time anyone saw him play after sustaining an injury in Crew 2 preseason. Erlandson, however, is now back, healthy and aiming his focus on growth in his first professional career.
Erlandson returned from the injury for Crew 2’s first home match of the 2022 inaugural MLS NEXT Pro season. While the defender didn’t receive any minutes in Columbus’ 2-0 victory over Orlando City B, he did see the field for the first time in his pro career on April 24, against Toronto FC II.
In the 63rd minute, Erlandson made his professional debut in the Black & Gold’s first comeback victory of the season. With the comeback part of the win already complete, Erlandson’s play at center back kept the lead as Toronto pushed for a late equalizer. For the Dayton native, it’s one part of a dream fulfilled.
“It’s honestly surreal, it’s come full circle,” Erlandson reflected on sitting in the stands as a young kid, even saving the newspaper from the Crew’s 2008 MLS Cup victory. “All those little things kind of add into the pride that I play with when I put this jersey on and wear this crest. It was a different crest when I was growing up, but even then, just playing for the Columbus Crew it’s just a different type of pride every time I step across those white lines.”
Across those white lines, Erlandson’s also learning. He is roommates with fellow draft pick Philip Quinton. When on the field, Erlandson sees what Quinton and other defenders do and observes small details of their game, details that he can incorporate into his own growth.
Erlandson’s lessons as a first-year professional also include conversations with the first team. During training, Crew senior side captain Jonathan Mensah has pulled Erlandson aside to give him wisdom from his professional career that stretches back to 2007. The team is also showing him areas where he can improve, including playing different positions.
“One part of my game that both first-team and second-team coaches have told me to improve on is just my quality on the ball and being cleaner on the ball,” said Erlandson. “I’ve also played a little bit of the No. 6 in training, so kind of improving my game in different areas, different positions, it’s helped me get more elements to my personal game. Being thrown in left back, right back, center back, No. 6, just opening up different little aspects of my game and just trying to improve any way I can.”
That shift in position is by design, according to head coach Laurent Courtois. It allows Crew 2 leaders to not only see if Erlandson has the skills to shift on the field but improve the competencies needed to strengthen as a center back.
The midfield No. 6 role isn’t an area that Erlandson’s ever played in his career but he’s already seeing improvements in winning the ball. There’s no frustration with playing different positions either. It’s Erlandson doing what he can to grow and show his worth as a pro with the Black & Gold.
After a week off, Crew 2 returns to action Sunday against New England Revolution II. It’s another chance for Erlandson and Crew 2 to continue developing. Also, it’s a matchup of one versus two, with Columbus leading the Eastern Conference of MLS NEXT Pro.
Sunday’s match kicks off at 5 p.m. ET at Gillette Stadium, in Foxboro, Massachusetts. Supporters can stream matches live on the MLS NEXT Pro league website.