The most attentive Columbus Crew SC fans might have noticed a notable absence in the team’s game day roster over the first three weeks of the 2019 Major League Soccer season. Midfielder Eduardo Sosa, who featured in as many as 10 matches for the team last year, is yet to make it to the bench with new head coach Caleb Porter.
The 22-year-old Venezuelan was disregarded by Porter against the New York Red Bulls, the New England Revolution and FC Dallas and is still looking to wear his No. 20 jersey in an official match in 2019.
The South American missed a good chunk of preseason after he sustained a left ankle injury in the team’s first training sessions this year, at Superkick, in Columbus, and he believes his time off the field is costing him playing time at the start of the season.
“I obviously want to play, but I also understand that the fact that I missed almost a month in preseason has put me a little behind my teammates,” he told Massive Report. “All I can do is keep working hard and hope the coach gives me a chance in the next matches. I’m very focused as I want to be ready when it happens so I can show my best and take full advantage of the opportunity.”
Sosa understands the situation he’s currently facing, but he’s certainly not planning on accepting it without a fight. A full-time starter and a key player for Zamora FC in his native Venezuela before he signed with the Crew, the midfielder loves being on the field and he hopes to regain his place in the roster as the season progresses.
“It’s hard,” the midfielder said. “I used to play every match back in Venezuela and to not make the game day roster… it hurts, especially when you’re sacrificing a lot to be here, away from your family. I try to keep focused and motivated to work hard every day in training and remain mentally strong. I want to play, that’s my goal and I’m working for it.”
According to Porter, Sosa’s absence in the first three matches of the season definitely does not mean the midfielder is out of his plans. According to the coach, the decision of building his bench with different players was not taken lightly.
The coach preferred to have two options for the striker role in rookie JJ Williams and veteran Patrick Mullins and another one for the wings — Robinho in the first two matches and Justin Meram in the last one — but he could change his mind about it in the future.
“It’s more of a numbers thing,” the coach explained. “You normally have three attacking players on the bench and I’ve decided to go with two strikers and a winger for these first games. It’s nothing he’s done wrong or anything, I just made a decision based on what I thought I’d need. Eduardo is a good player, he’s done well in scrimmages and he can definitely be in the 18 in the future. One thing is that he has one of the best No. 10s in the league in front of him (Federico Higuain) and that’s a big reason why he hasn’t gotten so many minutes so far.”
Porter’s point is a fair and important one. The fact that Sosa is competing for playing time with a player that’s considered by many one of the best in club history is at the same time a blessing and a curse as, while Sosa has a firsthand opportunity to follow in Pipa’s footsteps, he struggles to find playing time on his preferred No. 10 spot.
The young Venezuelan, however, prefers to see the glass as half full and to focus on absorbing as much as he can from the seasoned Argentinean in each training session and match.
“I love working with Pipa because I learn so much from him every day,” Sosa stated. “He’s got a lot of experience and he’s obviously a reference for the entire team, so I have to respect it and wait for my opportunity to play.”
Sosa’s patience may not be common for players of his age, but it can be more easily understood because of this long-term plan. The playmaker realizes he’s still a developing player and his goal is to be ready when Higuain is not around and the club needs him.
The Venezuelan could experiment with a temporary move to the wings, where competition for playing time could be less complicated — an option Porter said he would consider — but instead of taking the easy way out and just worrying about being on the field, he prefers to stick to his plan.
“If Caleb wants me to help somewhere else of course I’ll do it, but I love playing as the No. 10,” he added. “I plan on staying with the club for many years to come and I just want to keep improving and waiting for my chance. It’s like a process, every year I want to get better, get more space and become a more important player to the team.”
Having an early start to the season is nothing new to Sosa, however, as in 2018, his first year in Columbus, he didn’t see any playing time until June. After the long wait, the Venezuelan registered 10 MLS appearances and a game-winning goal against the Real Salt Lake to go with 120 minute in a U.S. Open Cup matchup against the Chicago Fire.
After one full season in Columbus, the young playmaker hopes he can end 2019 with even more meaningful numbers under his belt.
“I feel way more comfortable now that I know the city, the club and my teammates better,” he explained. “I struggled a lot when I first got here because Venezuelan soccer was a little slower. Gregg (Berhalter) helped me a lot to shape my game and to think and play faster. Now feel I can succeed here. It’s a different pace, but I feel I have adjusted well and I think I did a good job when I had a chance to play. Caleb brings new ideas and I like the way he sees the game and how he works with us in training. I’m very happy to be working with him.”
Sosa probably won’t have to wait so long for an opportunity in 2019 as the Crew will miss five players due to international call-ups Saturday against the Philadelphia Union on the road. That should open up space for him to figure in the bench.