Getting the opportunity to start a match in Major League Soccer is not something most of the league players experience during their rookie seasons. Living this special moment at home and having it crowned by an important victory is even less common, but those are the memories Columbus Crew SC winger Luis Argudo will have when he gets older.
The 22-year-old midfielder was part of the Black & Gold’s starting lineup for Wednesday’s match against the Philadelphia Union and he helped the team to remain unbeaten in the last four games, as the Crew won 1-0 at MAPFRE Stadium.
“It felt great knowing the team had my back and the coaches were in my corner,” Argudo said after the match. “It was amazing, I was glad that I got it over with them and helped the team out in any way I could. I was a bit nervous; my first touch wasn’t the greatest in the beginning. But I got a little more comfortable and the guys calmed me down, they told me I could do it. So I just worked hard.”
Argudo, who was selected by Crew SC in the third round of the 2018 MLS SuperDraft after playing two seasons at Wake Forest University, had played in four other matches for the club already, logging 50 minutes.
However, it was on the training field that the rookie convinced head coach Gregg Berhalter that he would be the best option to replace star playmaker Federico Higuain, who had played in each of Columbus’ first 10 matches and needed a break in a week where the team has three games over eight days.
“Luis is a guy that’s been performing well since his time here,” Berhalter commented. “We knew we were going to have to rest Federico, and now is the perfect time to give Luis an opportunity. I think he performed well. I think he was really close to having breakthrough moments. I’m pretty confident that as we keep working with him, he’ll get closer to finishing those opportunities.”
The rookie had big shoes to fill in his first start, as he replaced Higuain, one of the best players in team history and a central piece of Crew SC’s offensive system, having produced two goals and four assists in 2018.
The young midfielder admitted he tried to mold his movement on what the Argentinean does when he’s on the field, but, at the same time, he knew he needed to stick to his playing style to be successful and actually be in position to help the team.
“In practice, I definitely watch what he is doing, the timing and what he does going into spaces,” Argudo admitted. “I try to time my runs and go into spaces as well as he does. But I try and play my game. I am a professional as well. I am confident in what I can do.”
Playing in a central position, Argudo didn’t shy away from his responsibilities, creating four goal-scoring opportunities for the team, firing two shots, five crosses and completing 83.3 percent of the 30 passes he attempted.
His versatility, though, was the aspect which got the most praise by Berhalter after the match as the rookie, originally a winger, managed to perform well in a different role on his first MLS start.
“He reminds me a lot of Hector (Jimenez) in terms of his versatility, his understanding of the game, his technical ability… he has a lot of similar traits to Hector,” Berhalter added. “As a coach, it’s very good to have players like that. You feel very comfortable switching them into different positions, and it helps the team. Having a guy that can move around the field in the end helps the team.”
Other than his versatility, the rookie also impressed for his attitude. After he began the match a little nervous, as he admitted, Argudo settled in and played like a veteran. According to him, his controlled performance was the result that started a few days ago, far from Columbus.
“The coaches told me when we were coming back from Seattle that they were thinking about starting me, so that’s when I think I turned the switches on,” he said.
“In practice on Monday, I was with the first team and I thought I was going to start and that was when I started preparing myself mentally to calm the nerves down and stuff like that.”
With the first important step of his professional career in the books, all Argudo wants now is to keep improving and being able to help the team.
The winger believes that as he becomes more used to his teammates and more comfortable on the field, better things will come.
“Obviously, starting, I was there running around just because I wanted to help the team,” Argudo remarked. “A lot of the guys had played 90 minutes in Seattle and I knew they were tired, so I wanted to help them out more. It’s good to get the first start and the first good 80 minutes under my belt, so hopefully, next time when I play, I’ll be more prepared.”
Judging by the Argudo’s first minutes, that certainly seems to be the case.