Add another local product to the Columbus Crew SC organization.
With the signing of Homegrown Player Aboubacar Keita, the Black & Gold add a young central defender to the mix, and one whose prior experience with the First Team played a big role in his ascent.
“When looking at [Aboubacar’s] pathway, the integration with our First Team was a massive piece of his development,” said Dennis Sanchez, general manager of the Crew SC Academy.
Keita, 19, has had the opportunity to train with the First Team over the last year and a half, including earning second-half playing time against the Colorado Rapids as part of a friendly during the First Team’s preseason training camp last season in Casa Grande, Ariz.
In first recognizing the initiative under Gregg Berhalter and the previous First Team staff, Sanchez emphasized the importance of the Academy’s relationship with the First Team, and the overall support from the current Front Office and staff going forward.
“Without the support and belief from our ownership, Tim Bezbatchenko, Pat Onstad, and Caleb Porter, this opportunity would not be possible for him or future Academy players. Aboubacar has worked extremely hard to get to this point and is very deserving of the chance to play with our First Team. We could not be happier to have him represent our Academy.”
After one year at the University of Virginia in which he started every match, Keita joins an experienced group of Crew center backs that, statistically speaking, ranked as one of the League’s top defensive units in 2018.
Described as an aggressive defender and a rare left-footed center back, Keita brings youth and energy to a Crew roster that stood as one of three teams in Major League Soccer last season with 11 or more clean sheets and 50 or fewer total goals conceded.
“First off, he’s a player that will always give his best for the team,” Sanchez said. “As a defender, he is very good in individual duels and has the ability to cover space, especially when tracking back towards the goal.”
Club President Tim Bezbatchenko spoke on the significance of the Club signing Homegrown Players.
“It means a lot for the Club because it means we are continuing to connect to the community,” Bezbatchenko said. “We want to commit to our player development program, to our academy. We want a number of players from our First Team roster over the next few years to come from our academy, so a player like Aboubacar is important for that reason, but it’s also important because they are going to help us win.
“Now, do we expect these players to do that right off the bat? No. It might take some time, every player develops at a different rate, but it’s important for them to get into the First Team environment as soon as possible. That way, they are comparing themselves against our starting center backs, in his case, and they just learn what it means to be a pro.”
The Crew open preseason training in Central Ohio on Wednesday, Jan. 23 before heading to Chula Vista, Calif. from Jan. 25 – Feb. 6. See more for a detailed schedule of the Black & Gold’s full preseason schedule.