It’s been an interesting last eight months for Mohammed Abu.
The Ghanian midfielder joined Columbus Crew SC on January 24 with the expectation that he would compete for a starting spot in the center of the park for the Black & Gold.
“Our objective was to get a strong midfield and he was part of that,” head coach and sporting director Gregg Berhalter said of Abu this week. “We saw him play, we felt he’d fit right into our system, he’d be comfortable in how we play and we wanted to bring him in.”
The 25 year old had spent time all across Europe, including as a youth player at English Premier League side Manchester City as well as clubs in some of the top leagues in Spain, France and Norway. He was a player with international experience and seemed like a good fit.
Abu joined the club for preseason and settled in easily, but it quickly became apparent he would have more competition at his position than he initially realized.
While training at Sao Paulo, Crew SC caught wind of a young Brazilian central midfielder with the club who was available for loan. Berhalter and his staff worked out a deal and the 21 year old joined Columbus just before the start of the regular season.
Abu started the Major League Soccer season opener against the Chicago Fire, but was in a reserve role for the next four matches in favor of Artur.
Even after the trade of another central midfielder, Tony Tchani, to the Vancouver Whitecaps in late March, Abu only saw extended minutes when Artur was out with a wrist injury.
“One issue is you have a captain (Wil Trapp) at the position and you also have Artur, who’s also very good. Good quality in that position,” Berhalter explained of Abu’s situation. “So it was just him continuing to work hard and wait for a chance.”
For the season, Abu has made 15 appearances, nine starts. Those aren’t the numbers he likely foresaw coming into the year, but he’s not the type of player to create an issue when not playing.
Instead Abu’s done what the coaching staff asked of him and continued to perform in training while waiting for his chance.
“I’ve been in this game for awhile and I know how it works, like with top, top players,” Abu told Massive Report. “I’m a professional player and dealing with whatever situation comes my way. So I’m just here to help the team and with the coach and I’m just here.”
While Abu has played throughout the season — 919 minutes is nothing to look down upon — it’s been a struggle to find consistency. Thirty-five minutes here, a start there, but nothing on which to build game momentum.
At times, this can begin to wear down a player, but Abu is maintaining a positive outlook despite not seeing the playing time he would like.
“This is my job. I do this to take care of my family and stuff so, of course I always want to be on the pitch,” he said. “But it’s at the decision of the manager. So it’s frustrating, but what can I do? Except training and waiting for my time.”
That time has come recently.
Over the last two matches, while Artur has been out with a thigh strain, Abu has put together his first back-to-back 90 minute performances of the year.
Getting comfortable in the lineup and getting these consistent minutes is obviously helping the midfielder who put in his best performance of the season against the LA Galaxy on Wednesday night.
Abu led Crew SC in touches (88), passes (81) and tackles (3) in that game as well as registering his first career MLS assist on the insurance goal in the Black & Gold’s much-needed 2-0 victory.
“I feel absolutely great,” he said of the match.
“I feel good, I feel happy. I feel like I’m doing what the team is expecting from me and the team is doing well.”
Although it’s only his first season in MLS, it’s not been easy for Abu. He’s moved to a new new league, in a new country and had to adjust.
Fortunately for the midfielder, there are three other Ghanians on the team and the group has become close and helped him through.
“They’ve been great, because I didn’t know how I was going to feel being over here,” Abu said. “Because Jonathan (Mensah) and Harrison (Afful) and that experience they have and me and Lalas (Abubakar), we don’t have that experience. And they keep us positive, and they keep telling us keep calm and keep working and they’ve been really, really good having them here. Because I didn’t know what was going to happen if they were not here.”
While Abu has not played nearly as much as he would have liked in his debut year for Columbus, he did take on a big role in a vital part of the year.
With only seven games remaining in the MLS regular season for Crew SC, the team is in need of points to maintain its position in the Eastern Conference and qualify for the postseason.
Abu was a part of the last two contests — a win and a draw — and will be going forward in at least some capacity.
Although he wants to be on the field as much as possible, the team-first Abu will do whatever is best for the club down the stretch.
“We as a team are here for the result and for our goal,” he said, “and then me as a player, I want to keep moving forward and keep giving whatever I can for the team to achieve.”