Heading into the 2020 Major League Soccer season, the Columbus Crew SC roster appears to be at its strongest in years. Nearly every position has added reinforcements, and the wingers are no exception. The Black & Gold are known for sending the outside defenders up the pitch for an added element in the attack, but today we’re taking a look at the position that’s been in flux over the past few seasons in Columbus: the wingers.
Brought in as the marquee signing of the 2017 season under former head coach Gregg Berhalter, the Portuguese winger struggled to make much of an on-pitch impact during his first two seasons with the Black & Gold. Only the sixth Designated Player in club history, the hopes were high that Santos could help give the struggling Crew offense a jumpstart.
Netting only one goal and nine assists during his first two seasons with Columbus, it’s safe to say Santos didn’t live up to the hype that was built around his arrival. However, during a severely underwhelming 2019 for the Crew, Santos was one of the few bright spots coming out of the season.
After Federico Higuain suffered a season-ending injury, Santos stepped into the No. 10 position. Moving away from the wing and into the attacking midfield, he became a crucial part of the Crew attack, ending 2019 with 11 goals and six assists.
The Black & Gold faithful hope to see the confidence and level of play that developed in the prior season carry over to 2020 as Santos returns to his winger position. If Santos can maintain momentum, he’ll be a dangerous piece of the Crew attack.
Another glimmer of hope last season was the debuting Luis Diaz. Named one of the top 10 young players for the 2020 season by MLSSoccer.com, Diaz is young, fast and has a knack for creating opportunities for himself and his teammates.
The 21 year old from Costa Rica tallied two goals and four assists in only 13 appearances with Columbus thus far, showing off his speed and ability to find space and cross the ball well, also finding the back of the net himself on one occasion.
Youth is on the side of Diaz, and one has to assume his best years are yet to come.
Along with Diaz, Youness Mokhtar was brought in midway through the 2019 season as head coach Caleb Porter attempted to rebuild the injury-ridden Crew. During his first season run with the Black & Gold, Mokhtar showed promise and potential. The 28 year old from the Netherlands was tasked with filling the role left vacant by Justin Meram’s trade to Atlanta United by tucking into the pocket and helping Columbus build the attack and was serviceable enough when called upon.
The question becomes who will start more matches in 2020 between Diaz and Mokhtar. If Diaz continues to impress and locks in the starting position, Mokhtar can provide a dependable substitute in an area that has lacked depth in recent years for the Black & Gold.
Derrick Etienne Jr
The only winger on the roster yet to make his regular season Crew debut has multiple years of MLS experience, primarily with New York Red Bulls and a brief stint with FC Cincinnati, is Etienne. The 23 year old out of Richmond, Virginia was brought to the Crew on trial during preseason, and locked in a roster position shortly thereafter.
Etienne was called upon to start in the ‘Visit Tucson Sun Cup’ preseason matchup against his former Red Bulls club, and impressed right out of the gate, scoring his first goal for Columbus just 33 seconds into the match.
Going into his fifth season in MLS, Etienne brings a considerable amount of league experience to the Black & Gold’s depth. His contract being passed on by the Ney York, along with his stint for the struggling Cincinnati, may be the perfect storm to motivate Etienne to fight to prove he deserves a starting slot in MLS
The Crew enters into the 2020 season with only one player who was on the roster at the beginning of the 2019 season in Pedro Santos. Luis Diaz and Youness Mokhtar seemed to find their groove in Porter’s system relatively quickly upon joining the Black & Gold during the prior year, and Derrick Etienne Jr. has already shown reason to get excited when he had the opportunity to step onto the pitch during the preseason.
“Depth” is a word that’s been thrown around quite a bit as we’ve seen this roster take form during the offseason, and the wingers seem to be no exception. While Santos seems to be the only locked in constant, expect to see Mokhtar and Diaz fight to prove their case when called upon, while Etienne will provide the veteran depth in the position.