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Crew’s Tim Bezbatchenko reflects on Jonathan Mensah trade, future moves

The Black & Gold GM explains the thinking behind trading the club’s captain.

Courtesy of Columbus Crew

On Friday, news broke that the Columbus Crew had agreed to trade captain and center back Jonathan Mensah to the San Jose Earthquakes for General Allocation Money over the next few years. It was a move that few, if any, saw coming and one that was hard for Black & Gold fans to swallow.

Mensah joined the Crew as a Designated Player in 2017 and made 159 appearances for the club, scoring seven goals and helping lead Columbus to the team’s second-ever MLS Cup Final victory in 2020. He was a beloved figure on the field but was also a part of the community, making him a key figure in the club.

Since the trade was officially announced, Black & Gold president and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has given the Columbus faithful some answers about the trade, how it transpired and shared his thoughts on the team with two weeks to go until the start of the 2023 Major League Soccer season.

The underlying motive in this trade and other offseason moves was to mold the squad to fit the attacking style of play new head coach Wilfried Nancy wants his team to play.

“Throughout the offseason, we’ve been working with our new head coach in Wilfried Nancy in terms of what sort of style of play and his vision for the game and we’ve been talking about our roster throughout the offseason,” Bezbatchenko said in a Zoom call with reporters on Friday afternoon. “As we moved into preseason we knew that there would be changes necessary to affect his vision for the game and one that is not just surrounded but is really full of this idea of attacking soccer and being deliberate in the attack and in the final third.”

This move was not made without thinking about how it affects the roster. The Crew was already light on center backs — especially considering Nancy has been known for playing three at the back — and Mensah was one of the few on the Black & Gold’s roster who had experience playing in MLS and at the international level.

Following the trade, Bezbatchenko made clear the Crew has intentions of bolstering the squad with another signing, one that, as Massive Report understands, could be completed soon, bringing a younger, but experienced, center back to Columbus

“We’re hard at work; we’re looking at adding another defender,” Bezbatchenko said. “What this move does is it allows us the flexibility to make additional changes, whether that’s in preseason or throughout the first half of the year.”

Given everything Mensah brought to the club during his time with the Crew, this was not an easy trade to make. Bezbatchenko commended Mensah’s qualities as a leader on and off the field.

“He plays with tenacity, fire and passion, but then off the field, he’s also someone who lives his life with grace and generosity and connects with people in the community in a way that we rarely see, frankly,” Bezbatchenko said. “We’re tremendously thankful for him and his efforts in the community, obviously as a leader in our team and as a captain, he has served the club well, so he’ll leave a legacy.”

While the Black & Gold will look to reinforce their squad in the transfer market, Bezbatchenko insists fans have plenty to look forward to as the team looks to return to the MLS Cup playoffs for the first time since Mensah lifted the trophy to end the 2020 season.

“What we’re really excited about though also is the ability to see an entire year with Cucho Hernandez, getting Lucas (Zelarayan) back to his top form, and seeing how Darlington Nagbe not only continues his fine play for us but can connect with Lucas and Cucho,” Bezbatchenko said. “Part of this is really reflecting internally about ourselves and being excited about the players we have on our roster, but also of course adding another defender and possibly more players over the next three-six months.”