The Black & Gold were busy the last couple of months, acquiring six players and shipped out six others. Of the six that came in, goalkeeper Eloy Room, winger Luis Diaz and forward Romario Williams have already made an impact. Jordan Hamilton is yet to see the field after coming over from Toronto FC but is training and waiting on his debut. Chris Cadden is a future investment, coming to the club in 2020.
Mokhtar, who signed with the Crew as a free agent in mid-July, waited on his visa paperwork to come through, something that took longer than the other additions. Shortly before last Saturday’s 1-1 draw with the San Jose Earthquakes, Mokhtar’s visa was approved and he made the bench for Columbus. The winger likely would have seen action in the match if not for two injuries that forced unplanned substitutions.
But the midfielder is officially a member of the Black & Gold and available to make his debut this Saturday as the Crew welcomes rival FC Cincinnati to MAPFRE Stadium.
So how did Mokhtar get to Columbus?
The winger, who most recently played for Stabaek, spent time in Netherlands, Norway, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. He was a free agent heading into the summer transfer window and had offers to remain in Europe, but Mokhtar wanted to come to the United States and Major League Soccer.
“We had, in the past, a couple of players come from the Netherlands to the MLS and the (Atlanta United) coach as well, Frank de Boer,” Mokhtar said on Friday. “So you start following the league and you see the level. For me, it was quite interesting because I like the league, I like the country. So overall, for me, it was an easy decision to come here.”
While Mokhtar was not familiar with the Crew, he became aware of the club when Room, who also played in the Netherlands before coming to the Black & Gold, made the move to Columbus. Mokhtar learned of the Black & Gold’s interest and began to research the club.
It didn’t take long to sell him that this was the place for the 27 year old to continue his career.
As a player, Mokhtar might remind Crew fans of former player Justin Meram. As a winger, he likes to cut centrally and is not afraid to take his shot while also looking for teammates that might be in better positions.
“I can score goals and I can make other players score goals,” Mokhtar described his game. “I can give assists as well. That’s my type of game. I’m looking for the shot. If it’s not possible, then I’m also looking to put another guy in front of the goal. So I always look for opportunities to create chances and to score goals.”
While fans are yet to see the winger in action, Mokhtar was able to train with the Black & Gold some as he waited for his visa to be approved. That’s why when he was eligible, Mokhtar was quickly inserted into Caleb Porter’s game-day roster.
In his first few weeks with his new club, the Moroccan feels like he’s fitting in well with a team he describes as a “very good group.”
“Everybody respects each other and we try to give everything in training 100 percent or more,” he said. “Everybody’s sharp. It’s a nice group. We have different cultures in the group, so everybody’s fitting and respecting each other and it’s a good group.”
For Mokhtar, moving to the Columbus was a big change, but one he’s not unfamiliar with. After playing in multiple countries around the world, the winger is used to adjusting to new places and different cultures.
In the move to MLS and the Crew, he looked for stability for himself and his family. He found that in Columbus.
“I like Columbus because it’s not a really big city. It’s also not a village,” he said. “For the easy family life, it’s good. I have a family, so I like it here. I found a home already, so it’s good.”
With nine games left in the MLS season, the Black & Gold have recently found their form and recorded points in four straight matches. The team has found a group of players that are getting results and making a push toward the playoffs.
Mokhtar could focus on getting fit with an eye on really making his mark next season, when he has a full preseason to get ready. Instead, he’s hoping to play his part for the Crew before 2019 is complete.
“I really try to push myself for this season, to be important for this season as well because I’m training for a long while now and I’m ready to get some minutes and get game fit,” he said. “So we try to push it and I try to get fit as soon as possible for playing the whole game.”