It wasn't a dream start for Columbus Crew SC center back Gaston Sauro. After arriving in Columbus at the beginning of August, it took exactly a month for the 25-year old Argentinian to make his Crew SC debut. It officially took seven minutes for that debut to end.
Just three minutes into the game at MAPFRE Stadium, Sauro and Black & Gold midfielder Wil Trapp bumped heads going for a ball. Both players went down and the concern was initially for Trapp, who missed 13 games earlier in the season due to concussion problems.
It was Sauro however who took the brunt of the hit, as Trapp got up and the defender stayed down. After a delay of a few minutes, Sauro was taken off the field and his debut match was over.
"It was super frustrating," Sauro told Massive Report through a translator. "I was very frustrated. Three minutes in, you go down with an injury and you're out. It's a day where you want to prove what you can do on the field and you're here and you're working hard for it."
The Argentine missed several days of training, but didn't take long to get back on the practice field in an attempt to return to game action.
"Luckily it was a fracture in the cranium that healed very quickly and I got to play again," Sauro said. "But the frustration was definitely there."
Sauro missed three matches working his way back from the injury, but returned to the starting lineup last Saturday in a 2-1 loss at the New York Red Bulls.
"A tough first game to have," fellow center back Michael Parkhurst said of Sauro's first extensive game action for Crew SC. "Away to one of the best teams in MLS and a playoff-type atmosphere against a high pressing team. So difficult circumstances."
Despite the loss, it was a step in the right direction for Sauro, who played well doing what he does best: Defending.
"I thought he did well," head coach Gregg Berhalter said this week. "Defensively, I thought he played well and then offensively, he was out of sync. There's not too many teams that are as difficult as Red Bull to play against in your first real game. So it's understandable that he was first trying to maintain his fitness level and then concentrating on defense. Then offense came third and you can see that."
Offense is a big part of Berhalter's system. The team pushes numbers forward in an attempt to keep the ball and create lots of chances. This can be tough on a center back because it leaves the team exposed on the counter and Sauro and Parkhurst, along with frequent help from the defensive midfielder, are left alone.
What made Sauro appealing to Crew SC is his experience with this style.
"This system is similar to the one in Basel and I like that part about it," Sauro explained. "When I was playing in Italy, it was totally different. As far as the system's concerned, the Basil team and this team is very, very similar."
Like Crew SC, Basel pushes numbers forward and looking to pressure the opponent. The center backs have a lot of responsibility on the counter and are also a part of the possession game. Although it has been over a year since he played in this style, the experience will help him in Columbus.
Now it becomes getting comfortable. Heading into the last game and over the off weekend, Sauro worked with the other defenders to build chemistry.
"I've gotten to know the rest of the defenders, Tyson, Pogy, Michael, and we've done a good job so far of talking and communicating and building chemistry," Sauro said. "But it's time. It takes a little bit of time and that's what I hope to do is kind of build on that and continue to build on that through practice and games."
That understanding is starting to form and will continue to grow, but that is not all Sauro is dealing with. Coming from Italy and being from Argentina, the defender is adjusting to a new city, a new language, and a new culture. All of this plays a part into putting in performances on the field.
"For me, it's getting used to everything. The teammates, the team, the system, the city, all that stuff," Sauro explained.
"Where I see myself now is getting up there and every day and every game, it's a learning experience. So I'm creeping up there. I wouldn't say I'm at my peak or comfortable like that because no one ever really is 100 percent, but I feel comfortable and it's really about just figuring out the kinks, the little movements, and helping one another out. I would say I just feel comfortable."
While the first game did not go as well as he or his teammates would have liked, the signs are there that Sauro could take a stranglehold on the Crew SC center back position alongside Parkhurst.
"Absolutely," Parkhurst said of the potential of Sauro in this system. "That's why Gregg brought him in for this stretch run and if we have aspirations to be champions then for sure. He needs to be, I need to be, and everybody needs to be on top of the their game."