When Columbus Crew SC returned from California to Central Ohio for a few days of training before it heads to South Carolina, a new - yet very familiar – face joined the roster as it prepares for the 2019 Major League Soccer season. It was left back Waylon Francis, who returned to Columbus after spending last year with the Seattle Sounders.
The 28-year-old Costa Rican international had a four-year stint with the Crew between 2014 and 2017, in which he played 90 matches and recorded 19 assists. Because of that, he was rightfully feeling as if he was returning home when he was informed about the trade.
“I was caught by surprise, but I had a positive feeling about it,” Francis told Massive Report. “This is a place where I made history and I’m thrilled to be back home. I love this club and it’s good to return to a place where things always went well. I knew I had left the doors opens here and maybe it was my destiny to come back one day. Some Crew players called me when they heard the news and welcomed me back and it was really nice to feel they were happy I was returning.”
Francis returns to Columbus after a season in which he struggled to find playing time with the Sounders. The defender, who was left out of the Costa Rican roster for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, registered less than 650 minutes and just five starts during his time in Seattle.
Despite the limited time on the field, the fullback believes he returns to Columbus more mature and experienced after his short stint in the Western Conference.
“The experience in Seattle was good,” Francis added. “I learned some positive and negative things and those are the ones that make you grow as a professional. There were some reasons why I didn’t play as much as I wanted, but those were out of my control. The coaching staff made some decisions which I have never seen as a player before, but I couldn’t change them. But I have no hard feelings at all. I’m very thankful for the club, the coaching staff and the fans who welcomed me there. I grew from that experience and now it’s time to turn the page.”
Signed to replace Argentinean Young Designated Player Milton Valenzuela, who had a major knee injury and will likely miss the entire 2019 season, Francis hopes his return to Columbus helps him to return to his 2015 form, when he helped the Crew to advance to the MLS Cup Final with 11 assists in 33 matches and was considered by many the best fullback in the entire league.
Since that season, Francis’ numbers have severely dropped, as he combined for just six assists in 43 games. Working for the first time with new head coach Caleb Porter, who mentioned his 2015 performance multiple times when he first commented on his signing, the defender is confident he is in a good spot to show his best game again at MAPFRE Stadium.
“I think 2015 and 2014 were my best seasons in Columbus,” the Costa Rican recalled. “2016 wasn’t that good, but not only for me as we didn’t qualify to the playoffs. In 2017 things went better. Now that I’m back, I just need to remain calm and focused and keep doing things as I always did and trust on my work because if they wanted me here it’s because I have something they like. I’ll try to be a leader, to bring my experience and to keep learning.”
Francis is just one of a handful of players who found their way back to Columbus after spending some time with other MLS teams in recent years. The list also includes defender Josh Williams, who returned in 2017 after playing for New York City FC and Toronto FC in the two previous seasons, and winger Justin Meram, who was an Orlando City player for just a few months last year.
“This is a very special group of players,” the defender explained. “It’s like family and when you leave this club, you do it already thinking about coming back one day. Everyone brings something to the team, we like to work hard together and that’s what makes the club special.”