It’s been an offseason filled with change for the Columbus Crew. A new coach, new players, new philosophy and even a new television deal will affect the Black & Gold this season.
Perhaps one of the biggest changes that caught fans by surprise was the announcement of defender and Columbus captain Jonathan Mensah had been traded to the San Jose Earthquakes. The beloved center back spent six seasons with the Crew, leading the team to three MLS Cup playoff appearances, scoring seven goals and collecting three assists during his time with the Crew. He even helped the Black & Gold lift an MLS Cup in 2020 and a Campeones Cup in 2021.
With the departure of Mensah, a new question arises: Who will don the captain’s armband when the Black & Gold kick off the 2023 Major League Soccer season against the Philadelphia Union on Saturday evening?
Let’s take a look at some potential candidates.
It’s no secret that the 34-year-old defender is universally adored by teammates and fans alike. Williams is now the longest-tenured player on the roster and carries a tremendous influence on the field and in the locker room. He’s not one to shy away from conflict, is already a leader and would undoubtedly know how to motivate his teammates and pick up spirits in the dressing room when morale gets low. His marketability is off the charts.
As if he wasn’t loved prior to his second stint in Columbus, Williams further solidified his place in Crew lore when he was on hand at a local brewery with supporters when the announcement was made that the team had been saved. Williams then celebrated with supporters and became even further engrained into the fabric of what bonds the club and the fans together.
The one negative about Williams becoming the full-time captain is that he wouldn’t likely be a long-term solution in the role. It’s no secret that professional athletes have a limited shelf life and at 34 years of age, the defender could be seen as a bridge to perhaps a more long-term solution down the road.
Nagbe is the engine in the midfield and is the driving force for the Crew attack. The central midfielder could also slot in as the next Columbus captain in 2023. He served in the role of vice-captain under Mensah in previous years and he has the respect of his teammates and his coaching staff.
The Lakewood, Ohio native demonstrates quiet confidence and lets his play on the field do the talking.
Nagbe is at nearly the top of all statistical categories in MLS when it comes to passing and he is capable of scoring a world-class goal from time to time. He is also a proven winner, becoming the first player in MLS history to with an MLS Cup with three different teams.
Like Williams, the Crew midfielder is in his early-30s but to his credit has demonstrated durability and has seldom missed action due to injury.
You can’t have a conversation about the Crew captaincy and not include the Argentian playmaker. Zelarayan looks to become the third Argentine to become Crew captain, joining Marco Carrerra (1997) and Federico Higuain (2013) as the others to do so.
The 30 year old has demonstrated he has what it takes to be successful in this league and that he has the tools to be great. Zelarayan has shown the passion that you need from a captain and that he has the ability to do remarkable things on the pitch. He has captured the imagination of fans and even garnered attention on a national stage. Zelerayan can create magic on the field, but can he lead? That would need to be answered if he were given the armband.
A goalkeeper as a captain isn’t always something a head coach wants to given his position on the field. Because he’s stuck at one end, a goalkeeper who is a captain can’t communicate as well to his attacking players at the other end of the field and isn’t always able to speak with the referee depending on his positioning.
With that said, Room has been one of the Black & Gold’s leaders since he arrived in Columbus in the summer of 2019. Game in and game out, the goalkeeper is one of the most vocal players on the field, as well as in practice when the full group is together.