The 2019 Columbus Crew SC season came to an end in early October with the Black & Gold missing out on the MLS Cup playoffs. While no postseason in Columbus is certainly a disappointment, the Crew did finish the year well and there’s optimism in the air heading into 2020.
But before we start looking ahead, we have to look back and review the 2019 season piece by piece. Today Massive Report continues the positional series, looking at the central midfielders.
Federico Higuain suffered a season-ending injury on the road against the Colorado Rapids on May 25, which forced a tactical reconfiguration of the Crew’s central midfield. Before his injury, the Crew’s maestro did account for one goal and five assists after 14 matches during the 2019 MLS regular season. Higuain’s numbers – and impact – obviously would have increased significantly throughout the rest of the season. And Higuain’s value in conducting the central midfield and final third stretched beyond statistics.
So, Columbus had to replace Higuain’s stats and, equally important, his consequential role, creative leadership and production in the central midfield.
Editor’s note: The central midfielders are listed in order of the number of appearances and not in any form order.
The 2019 season was the best yet for Pedro Santos in a Crew uniform as he moved from the wing to an attacking midfield position to replace Higuain in his own way. The Portuguese midfielder tallied 11 goals and six assists because he was given more space to maneuver and pull the offensive strings in the middle of the pitch for himself and his teammates.
During his first couple of seasons with the Crew under former head coach Gregg Berhalter, Santos did not look fully comfortable or perform at his highest level as a winger because being positioned on the flank did not best showcase his strengths or hide his weaknesses. His skill set is best utilized centrally as a point person for transitioning from the defense, possession and opening up the offense by running downhill with space and freedom. Unlike past years in Columbus, Santos became a multi-dimensional threat this season. Case in point, Santos’ two-goal performance against the New York Red Bulls on July 27 showcased his instinct to find the right space and skill for scoring off of quick one-touch opportunities that led the Crew to a 3-2 win in Red Bull Arena.
While the Black & Gold will explore adding a new attacking midfielder to replace Higuain, head coach Caleb Porter wants Santos to tuck inside and help create as an alternate No. 10 going forward.
The Brazilian defensive midfielder generally met expectations in 2019 as compared to his past seasons with Columbus. Part of his role is to make the occasional professional tackle, which he did well in certain circumstances this year. Moreover, playing in 30 games this season established Artur as a reliable team member while his Crew teammates endured injuries. However, there were several occasions when Artur simply did not mark/follow or communicate with his nearby defenders in which these breakdowns in fundamental defending contributed to easy goals against Columbus. Establishing better communication with Wil Trapp and the backline for defensive responsibilities and passing the ball out of the back will be necessary moving forward.
The Crew’s captain was (yet again) a stalwart as a central defensive midfielder throughout 2019. Trapp’s beautiful assist — a ball played over-the-top of Toronto FC’s defense at MAPFRE Stadium on Aug. 17 that landed perfectly on the goal-scoring foot of Santos — was proof of his prowess as an astute passer that served as a highlight for the Crew’s No. 6 in 2019.
On that note, Trapp earned four assists in 2019, which tied his second-highest total in his Crew career. He also did his best to manage the defense from the central defensive midfield position. Trapp will need to step up even more next season to help achieve better cohesion and stability between the defense and the central midfielders.
Fueled by a kind of Portland Timbers nostalgia, David Guzman (coached by Porter in Portland) was brought to Columbus as a central defensive midfielder, which was curious because A) the Black & Gold already had Trapp and other suitable substitutes and B) the trade for Guzman cost Columbus a valuable international roster spot. While he registered a couple of shots on goal, Guzman failed to impress in 2019.
Overall there were good moments by the Crew’s central midfielders this year yet there is plenty of room (and necessity) for improvement. The question is, will they progress and move in the right direction with the right guidance, personnel and vision for the 2020 season?
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