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Scoring or not, the Crew are pleased with Pedro Santos’ play

The Black & Gold winger has done most things right... and now he’s found a goal.

Pedro Santos debuted for Columbus Crew SC on August 12, 2017. His first goal for the Major League Soccer club didn’t come until March 24, 2018, in a 3-1 win against D.C. United. It then took the Portuguese winger over a year to find the back of the net again in a meaningful contest, a game-winner on Saturday in a 2-0 victory against Atlanta United.

Over that time, there was frustration as to why Santos wasn’t scoring but that noise came mostly from the fans. It certainly didn’t come from his teammates.

“I think people are going to speak about it however they want but I think for us as teammates, there’s so many little things that he does,” Black & Gold captain Wil Trapp said of Santos.

While Santos has not been a regular goalscorer for Columbus, he has done plenty else to earn him 44 career MLS appearances since his arrival to the club. Santos is good on the ball, creates opportunities, draws fouls for dangerous set pieces and, as Trapp described him, is “one of the best attacking defenders I’ve ever seen.”

In 2018, Santos’ only full season with the Crew, the winger contributed seven assists in 30 games played. According to head coach Caleb Porter, that’s about what should be expected from an MLS winger. The only thing Santos has not done for the Black & Gold is put the ball in the back of the net with regularity.

It’s not been for a lack of opportunities. Santos has 94 shots in his MLS career, 72 of which came last season. The fact that the ball hasn’t wound up in the back of the net more frequently is a major head-scratcher.

On Saturday, Santos got on the end of a low cross, an opportunity he’s had plenty of times before in a black and gold uniform. This time, though, he was able to finish the chance, giving the Crew the early lead.

“It’s very good for me,” Santos said of the goal. “I love to score goals and everybody likes that. But I think the pressure for me is because the supporters want me to score goals... and when I score I feel much better.”

Santos’ teammates were also excited to see him finally find the back of the net. But while fellow creative midfielder Federico Higuain was happy for Santos, he was also quick to point out that the Black & Gold are not about individuals and it’s the collective that makes Columbus successful.

“I think we play 11 against 11,” he said.

“It’s not about Pedro or Justin Meram or Robinho or Gyasi (Zardes) or myself or other players. It doesn’t matter who scores. What’s very important is attack the box, make those runs in behind the lines. Then it’s not important how many goals Pedro will score if he opens space for a teammate or he’s getting the ball in that area or not. It’s all about an idea to play football.”

With Santos scoring just once in 2018, the Crew still managed to find success. The Black & Gold finished fifth in the Eastern Conference, making the MLS Cup playoffs for the fourth time in five years. Columbus advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals, losing to Supporters’ Shield winners, the New York Red Bulls.

This was a successful season, but it may have been even better had the Crew’s offense not been one of the most pedestrian in the league. While Santos did help create chances, there’s no denying that he could have contributed a few more goals. If he did that, maybe things turn out differently for Columbus.

Porter, who was not in charge of the Black & Gold last season, is not worried about what Santos did in the past. He likes what he’s seen from the winger so far this year and believes he’s doing everything asked of him. After scoring his first goal, Porter is confident that more will come for Santos.

“I think Pedro, over the course of the year, will chip in at least five (goals), I really do,” the head coach said this week. “Maybe it’s one less but over 34 games, I think he’ll chip that in and I think that he’ll get five to eight assists, some of those on dead balls. I would say it is part of the equation for sure. I wouldn’t say it’s not the primary thing. I would just say that you can’t expect a winger to chip in as many goals as the 9 or the 10. They’re not in a position where they’re going to chip in as many goals.”

While Porter won’t judge Santos’ performances strictly on if he scores or not, he also admits, for the betterment of the team and the way he wants to play, the Portuguese winger has to find goals. That’s how the Crew can build on the success of last season and be even better in 2019.

“You see last year, with the team being an attacking team, (the wingers) didn’t chip in goals,” he continued. “But I think they will chip in five to eight goals (each). I think the wingers will do that. And if they don’t, then we’ve underachieved there, for sure. So it’s a part of the equation. I’m not saying that working hard defensively, keeping the ball and not scoring goals is going to be good enough for me. But my point is, just relax on the goals. The goals will come over the course of the year and with wingers, it might mean that it’s one every four games or so, which is what’s typical with wingers.”

Going forward, Santos cannot be thinking too much about scoring or he’ll risk being too tense and missing more chances. He needs to continue to do what he’s done so far in 2019 — get on the ball, create chances, defend well — that has pleased his head coach and it will be up to his teammates to find him and put the winger in good spots to finish.

The rest will take care of itself.

“I hope now I can score more because I feel confident,” Santos said. “The team is confident too and we are playing good soccer and we look forward to keep going.”