Thursday evening, the Columbus Crew announced that midfielder Darlington Nagbe and winger Pedro Santos will be unavailable for the MLS Cup Final against the Seattle Sounders this Saturday at MAPFRE Stadium. Both players were listed as “not medically cleared to play” by the Crew and are absent for the season finale of 2020.
Both players are healthy and, as head coach Caleb Porter stated, “that’s first and foremost the most important thing.”
Columbus announced earlier this week that one player had tested positive for COVID-19, while seven more returned to training. The Crew provided new information on Thursday evening, along with the injury report, that an additional player had tested positive for COVID-19. Porter and the team learned in the middle of training Thursday about the second of these two players being unavailable and clarified he would not disclose the order of when they found out about each player being absent.
“Of course, it’s a big loss. It’s a big blow,” explained Porter. “Those two guys have been key players for us on a personal level, on a human level if you just take away the soccer. I just feel for them that they can’t be — on a personal level a human level — that they can’t be apart of an MLS Cup that they so deserve to be apart of.”
Veteran right back Harrison Afful mentioned that he along with his teammates “felt down” when they heard this news about Nagbe and Santos.
“Due to this pandemic and this virus, we can’t control everything,” he said. “There are other players stepping in that will do a good job.”
Nagbe has played in 15 games this season, 14 starts, and recorded one goal and one assist. But it is his passing and ability to keep the ball that makes him so valuable as Nagbe has completed 94.9 percent of his passes. Santos, who was expected to start on the left wing, had six goals and a career-best eight assists in 22 regular season games this year. In the playoffs, Santos has two goals including the game-winning goal against Nashville SC in the Eastern Conference semifinal.
For this Final tomorrow, the Crew will once again have to deal with adversity which is something they have been used to “so much” this year, as emphasized by Porter.
“My job is to, no matter what happens, is to find a way to win and to get my group prepared under any circumstances,” the head coach said Friday.
On the other side, Seattle Sounders manager Brian Schmetzer knows it is his job to stop the Crew in Columbus on Saturday and try to win a third MLS Cup. Schmetzer understands the loss of these two key players to the team but knows that the Black & Gold will have a plan come game time.
“Caleb is going to put two talented players in their place,” Schmetzer said. “There’s nothing I’m doing differently. It’s sad those guys can’t feature, we’ll try to take advantage, but we’re not changing what we do.
“It’s a bummer for Columbus for sure, I get it. Our job is not to let complacency come into ‘this is going to be easy.’ We’re too smart for that.”
The Black & Gold squad has so many motivating reasons to win this trophy. For the Crew fans that saved the team two years ago, for their teammates, coaches, families, themselves. The list goes on. Now the group will fight on the pitch against the Sounders in the MLS Cup Final to win the trophy for Nagbe and Santos.
“I’ve never been more proud,” Porter said. “The resiliency, the way they’ve come together. How much they give. And the fact that they just keep rolling with the punches. I mean this week is no different. With the players we lost and the news, I had to tell them at the end of training yesterday. I could just look in their eyes and they were like, ‘We are going to do this.’ We are going to do this for Pedro and Darlington even more so and nothing is gonna stop us.”
The 2020 MLS Cup Final kicks off Saturday evening at 8:30 p.m. ET from MAPFRE Stadium on FOX.