Columbus Crew 2 forward Jacen Russell-Rowe has been named the 2022 league MVP, MLS NEXT Pro announced Friday.
The 20-year-old forward won the inaugural MLS NEXT Pro Golden Boot, scoring 21 goals during the regular season. Russell-Rowe's contributions headlined Crew 2's dominant campaign that ended atop the overall league standings with 55 points with a whopping +40 goal differential.
“I have my mom and my girlfriend here and it means the world to have my family here to support me," Russell-Rowe said after learning of the honor. "Because they’ve always been supporting me from the background and now when I finally have something individual, a big award, in my opinion, it means a lot that they get to share this moment with me.”
The star of Columbus Crew 2 and MLS NEXT Pro accepted the award with his loved ones by his side Friday morning at Lower.com Field, the site of Saturday's MLS NEXT Pro Cup showdown between his side and St Louis CITY2. Though his individual efforts garnered some extra attention, Russell-Rowe gave credit to his supporting cast.
“It’s a great accomplishment for me and I think it’s for my team as well because I wouldn’t be able to score all those goals and to play the way I played without them behind me.”
You won't get an argument about Russell-Rowe's selection from Crew 2 head coach Laurent Courtois. “100% deserved, I really struggle to find anybody else even close," said the 2022 MLS NEXT Pro Coach of the Year. "Not only how decisive he was but also what he brings to the game, unique plays, savviness, and creativity. He just dominated the whole league and really pleased for him.”
As far as his competition, St Louis CITY2’s Kyle Hiebert, North Texas SC’s Bernard Kamungo, Orlando City B’s Jack Lynn, and Tacoma Defiance’s Marlon Vargas were the field of finalists for the 2022 MLS NEXT Pro MVP honor.
Russell-Rowe joined Columbus Crew 2 shortly before the inaugural campaign began, signing an MLS NEXT Pro contract on March 18. During 2020/21, Russell-Rowe played college soccer at the University of Maryland, where he tallied four goals and five assists across 26 appearances.
Russell-Rowe, a Canadian youth international, signed a first-team contract with the Crew organization on June 29 after impressing in MLS NEXT Pro with Crew 2. Russell-Rowe was on a nine-game scoring streak for Crew 2 prior to being awarded a first-team contract. His scoring streak, accompanied by stellar form all over the pitch, saw Russell-Rowe win the respective MLS NEXT Pro Player of the Month awards for both May and June this campaign.
Russell-Rowe signed two short-term loan agreements with the first-team in late May and again in mid-June, but in his first appearance after signing an official first-team contract, he notched two assists in a 2-1 win over Toronto FC.
Following the conclusion of the regular season, Russell-Rowe was voted into the MLS NEXT Pro Best XI for his contributions to both the team and the league.
The young Canadian will now have an opportunity to add to his outstanding debut season in the Crew organization when Crew 2
host MLS NEXT Pro Cup on Saturday, October 8 against Western Conference champions St Louis CITY2.
Russell-Rowe and Crew 2 will look to cap off the season with a win at Lower.com Field in their first-ever meeting against CITY2.