The Columbus Crew’s scoring problems in the 2022 Major League Soccer season are well documented. Through 15 games played this year, the Crew has just 18 goals scored, fifth-worst in the Eastern Conference, and the team has been shut out seven times.
Over the last week, the Black & Gold made a move to remedy that problem, making a record signing for Watford FC forward Cucho Hernandez. But Hernandez is just arriving in Columbus this week and can’t play for the Crew until the secondary MLS transfer window opens on July 7.
With two more games until Hernandez can make his debut, the Black & Gold elected to make a second striker addition. On Wednesday, Columbus announced forward Jacen Russell-Rowe has been signed from Crew 2 with a deal through the 2024 season and options for 2025 and 2026, the club’s MLS NEXT Pro team, on a full-time basis. In doing so, Russell-Rowe becomes the first Crew 2 player signed by the first team in the inaugural year of MLS NEXT Pro.
In order to complete this deal, the Black & Gold sent $50,000 in General Allocation Money in 2022 to Toronto FC in exchange for Russell-Rowe’s MLS Homegrown Priority. This number may increase if Russell-Rowe meets certain performance-based incentives.
Russell-Rowe, 19, will be immediately added to the Crew’s roster and is expected to play in a homecoming against Toronto FC on Wednesday evening where he will have family and friends in attendance. Despite being from Toronto, Ontario, Russell-Rowe will count as a domestic player on the Black & Gold’s roster per league rules for Homegrown players from Approved Canadian Clubs. No additional moves will have to be made to open room for Russell-Rowe on the roster.
Coming up through the Toronto FC Academy, Russell-Rowe made appearances for both TFC III and TFC II in 2018 and 2019 respectively. He spent the 2020 and 2021 seasons in America, playing collegiately for Maryland where he scored four goals and added five assists in 22 appearances across the two years before he was signed to the first-ever Crew 2 roster. He was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team during the 2020 season.
Russell-Rowe immediately joins a Columbus forward group that includes fourth-year professional Miguel Berry and MLS veteran Erik Hurtado. These two have combined for five goals this year, with Berry failing to score in the last five matches in which he played. Hurtado has two of his three goals this year in his last two matches but missed the last game after injuring his ankle against Charlotte FC and is questionable for the match against Toronto.
Russell-Rowe was sent on loan from Crew 2 to the first team for the maximum of four occasions allowed and played for the Crew off the bench in each of the last two matches, recording 34 total minutes and no shots. In order to take the field for the Black & Gold again, he had to be signed to a first-team contract.
In 11 games this year for Crew 2, Russell-Rowe leads MLS NEXT Pro with 11 goals. He also has contributed two assists. The Black & Gold reserve team is undefeated in games where Russell-Rowe starts and one of the team’s two losses and its only tie came when Russell-Rose was not available.
While he is now a part of the first-team setup, Russell-Rowe can be loaned to Crew 2 at any time, so he is likely not done playing for the Capybaras.