In the midst of a heavy week, with Columbus Crew SC playing three matches over eight days, head coach Gregg Berhalter has an important decision to make — who will replace Pedro Santos?
The Portuguese winger was shown a red card last Saturday against the Seattle Sounders and will be suspended for this Wednesday’s matchup with the Philadelphia Union at MAPFRE Stadium. Santos has not been impressive so far in 2018, but his playing style is unique within the Black & Gold’s roster and that creates an additional challenge when replacing him.
While Berhalter doesn’t have an obvious like-for-like replacement for the Portuguese, he has a few options on hand and each of them would bring positive and negative aspects to Crew SC’s system.
Let’s explore some of Berhalter’s alternatives:
Martinez and Hansen on the wings
Cristian Martinez and Niko Hansen have split time on Crew SC’s starting lineup since the start of the season and with Santos out of the picture, they could potentially play together. That would set the team up in more of an aggressive style that would make the most of their dribbling and running skills. This seems to be the most likely option.
“They have been playing, they have been getting minutes, they have been starting,” Berhalter said about the young wingers. “It won’t be their first experience and that’s the benefit of giving guys playing time early in the season.”
On the other hand, neither Martinez nor Hansen can replicate Santos’ defensive game, leaving the team a little more vulnerable. However, in a home match where Crew SC should expect a win, this could possibly be a risk Berhalter would be willing to take.
Three in the back
The Crew successfully used a three-man backline at times in 2017 and the system was adopted again against the Sounders after Santos was sent off and helped the team to keep the match scoreless. As the Black & Gold ended the game on a high in the system, Berhalter could give it another shot as he’s forced to make changes.
Obviously, playing at home against the Union requires a different mindset than facing the Sounders on the road with a one-man disadvantage, but having three in the back could help to make up for Santos’ defensive work and, at the same time, free up the fullbacks, who have been more reliable and efficient than both Hansen and Martinez, to push forward and help offensively.
Starting Grella for the first time
This is probably the most unlikely option to be used as Berhalter has been very cautious about Mike Grella’s return to the field after nearly a year out with a knee injury. In this scenario, he would play in the left side, leaving the right wing spot open for Martinez or Hansen. It’s clear that Grella won’t endure the entire 90 minutes, but he’s probably a more consistent option than the other two wingers.
“I wouldn’t say (he’s ready) for a start, but he’s definitely an option,” Berhalter commented on Grella this week.
Here, the strategy would be starting the match at full power and betting on a good start to build some advantage. If that happens, when Grella needs to leave the game, Berhalter could replace him for a center back or a defensive midfielder like Ricardo Clark or Mohammed Abu to preserve the lead. If that’s not the case, he could put Hansen or Martinez in and stick to the first option until the end of the match.
What about you? How would you replace Santos in this match? Let us know what you think in the comments seciton below.