Columbus Crew SC fans spent much of 2018 upset with the offensive production. While forward Gyasi Zardes had a career-best 19 goals — the most of any American-born Major League Soccer player last year — and Federico Higuain registered six goals and nine assists, the Crew did not get enough in terms of goals and assists from the team’s wingers, a position which had been a key contributor in those departments in previous seasons.
It wasn’t just the fans that weren’t happy with the output of the wide midfielders. The players themselves understood that, in order to be successful — the Black & Gold made the playoffs but tied for the second-fewest goals in Major League Soccer with 43 — the team needed more goals.
“I think our production wasn’t good overall,” winger Pedro Santos said. “The wingers created several chances, but we didn’t score many goals. I think Niko was the one with the most goals among us. We relied too much on Gyasi, Pipa and the set pieces and I think that for a team that wants to contend, it may not be enough. I think we had a good season and we could have gone even further, but we’re certainly looking to improve on this aspect.”
The 2018 season is behind Columbus and 2019 is on the horizon. The Crew welcomes a new coaching staff, led by head coach Caleb Porter, who plans on helping to take this club to another level. To do that, he will need more goals which means more production from the wingers.
Santos is a player that can help produce more statistically. Since the Portuguese winger was signed in early August of 2017, he has scored just one goal in 39 games played. This was not the expectation when Santos was acquired. The winger managed 24 goals in 114 appearances for SC Braga in Portugal, so goal scoring is a part of his game.
When Porter arrived in Columbus, figuring out how to get the wingers going, and specifically a dynamic player like Santos, was at the top of his priority list.
“He talked to each of us during the first days of preseason and he explained to me some ideas he had about my game,” Santos recently told Massive Report. “He wants to make me a better and more dangerous player. He wants me more involved in the offensive actions, scoring more goals and getting more assists. I’m working hard to meet his expectations and I hope it happens.”
What’s perplexing about Santos’ lack of production is that it’s not due to a lack of opportunities. The winger is a more than sufficient dribbler who often puts himself in good positions to score. In 2018, he was second on the team with 72 shots in 30 games played but, whether it was hitting the post or not putting the ball on frame, Santos could not find the back of the net.
The winger will make a concerted effort to score more goals in 2019 by being more confident in his approach, something that has come from working with Porter.
“When I was playing in Portugal, I always tried to shoot one, two, three times in the game,” Santos said. “Last year, I didn’t feel the confidence to shoot but this year I change my mind and I believe in myself. I try to score and shoot and I hope that things go right.”
Crew fans saw that change in mindset in the team’s final preseason game against FC Cincinnati on Saturday night. In what was a dominating performance all around by the Black & Gold, Santos found the back of the net on a beautiful goal just after halftime to give his side a 3-0 advantage.
While Santos took similar shots last year, it was clear from this attempt that there was more belief that the ball would find the back of the net.
“I saw an opportunity to score and to shoot and I felt I could have scored and I’m very happy that it happened and very, very happy to score again,” Santos said.
While scoring will be important for Santos and the Crew in 2019, the winger put together one of his better displays on the field in a black and gold uniform. The Designated Player was not afraid to take defenders on, made smart plays with the ball, including helping to set up the opening goal just five minutes into the contest, and was arguably the team’s player of the game.
This is exactly the type of player Columbus thought they were getting when they signed Santos in 2017 and how Porter expects the winger to play this season.
“A lot of this way of playing is about a mentality and you need guys that want the ball, you need guys that make the game. I thought Pedro showed a lot of confidence today. “A lot of confidence,” the head coach said. ”His chest was out. He was wanting to create chances and wanting to score goals and wanting to be in positions to make the game, and we need guys that want to do that in this system.”
The Crew isn’t making any secret about it this year, the team wants to win. Porter wants to play a dominant style of soccer, similar to what fans saw on Saturday night, and really take the game to the opponent.
While the new head coach likes the roster he acquired and believes much of the skills and fundamentals to operate his system is there, he knows he needs more from players like Santos in 2019 and has made that clear.
If Santos’ performance against Cincinnati was any sort of preview of what’s to come during the regular season, both Porter and the Columbus supporters are going to be very pleased this year.
“It’s very important for the players to score and we need to score,” Santos said. “But Caleb talked to us and gave us the confidence to play, to shoot and believe in ourselves. I hope things go right. We are working to score goals and I feel very happy scoring in this game. But the season starts next week and I hope to start scoring in the season too.”