Gaston Sauro was certainly one of the biggest winners of Columbus Crew SC’s recently-concluded preseason. The 29-year-old defender had a prominent role with the team, starting four of the club’s six friendly matches, and seems to be close to taking another step forward after his career was pretty much reborn following a serious left knee injury that sidelined him for almost two years.
Sauro returned to the field last May and, since then, has been displaying steady and encouraging progress. In 2018, he recorded eight starts, including a pair of them in the playoffs, and proved he could be useful for the team if he managed to stay healthy.
In 2019, his goal is to put the injury behind him for good and compete for a starting spot in head coach’s Caleb Porter’s lineup.
“Two years ago the doctor told me that maybe I would never play soccer again,” he recalled. “It was a tough injury and I had a 50-50 chance to return or not. But I’m back, I feel good and this year I’m looking forward to be a starter and to play a lot of matches. I’m feeling very good and motivated. It was great to finish last season playing and helping the team and now I hope I can be available for every match. It’s the last year of my contract and I want to do well.”
After experiencing his first preseason in three years, the Argentinean is confident that the intensive preparation will lead to a healthy and productive season with the Black & Gold. As Sauro noticed, the hard work put in in California, Columbus and South Carolina will build the foundations for a physically demanding season.
The defender said he feels comfortable with his knee now and that there’s no reason to hold anything back.
“Taking part in preseason makes a lot of difference,” he explained. “It’s time for you to prepare properly for the entire season. I’ll definitely be in better shape this season and I hope I can help the team during the year. I’m eager to play and very excited to be on the field. I don’t feel any pain, so I’m not scared of anything.”
Sauro’s dedication and skillset have quickly gotten the attention of Porter. The coach obviously knew the Argentinean, who he coached again in the 2015 MLS Cup final, but after such a long time sidelined, Porter admitted he was surprised by the defender’s current condition.
The fact that he got the starting job during most of preseason shows how highly Porter thinks of Sauro.
“He’s very experienced and is one that kind of grows on you the more you watch him,” the coach told Massive Report. “He’s just very steady and to me, he’s very underrated on the ball – he’s a good passer. He’s quietly confident and quietly competitive. He’s got a good demeanor and it’s great that he’s healthy. It’s pretty amazing actually that he was out for so long and to step back in. In a lot of ways, he’s still getting his rhythm back. We’re pleased, we just need to be smart with that knee.”
If his physical condition is no longer a hurdle between Sauro and a starting spot, the massive competition he will face could certainly be. The center back position is arguably the most crowded on the Black & Gold’s roster with Sauro, Jonathan Mensah, Josh Williams, Lalas Abubakar, Alex Crognale and Aboubacar Keita all competing for two – or potentially three – spots.
Sauro and Jonathan had an early lead over the others in preseason, but it could all change as the year progresses.
“Competition is always positive, it doesn’t let people relax,” Sauro explained. “We know that any of us can play, so we’re all working very hard on the training field because we want to show we’re ready. Competition is good and more than that, it’s necessary. I think that center back is probably our deepest position right now and I hope the competition helps each one of us to get better.”
A starter or not, Sauro is happy to be back for good. During his long and difficult time off the field, he learned that in sports, it’s not always about the big games. To him now, every little moment matters.
“After all I’ve been through, one thing I can tell is that I enjoy every moment more than I used to,” he added. “Each training session is very pleasant and I enjoy every step of my daily routine, waking up, coming here to practice, and putting on my uniform...it’s all very special.”