The central midfield position for the Columbus Crew was a huge part in defining their 2020 championship-winning season. An area that has gone through a near-complete overhaul since the arrival of Caleb Porter, the center of the park for the Black & Gold was the backbone of the team’s identity.
The central midfield collective contributed six goals and six assists ,which is a sizable return for a unit not typically known for its scoring. And the group proved throughout the season to be even more valuable as the engine room for Columbus’ formation.
As Massive Report continues with its position-by-position roster evaluation of this past year, here is how the central midfielders performed.
The newest acquisition to the center of the park for the Black & Gold is no stranger to Caleb Porter. Having been coached by the Crew boss at both the collegiate level and as part of an MLS Cup-winning Portland Timbers team in 2015, success seems to follow the midfielder at the highest level. After winning his third MLS Cup with three different teams (his second being with Atlanta United in 2017), Nagbe joined a list of only 17 other players with at least three MLS Cup victories to their name. He was traded to Columbus from Atlanta after the Crew parted ways with longtime captain Wil Trapp prior to the start of the 2020 season.
Despite having to miss the MLS Cup Final, the midfield standout was crucial for the Black & Gold to even reach the championship game. Not generally known for his ability to find the back of the net, Nagbe tallied two goals on the season, one being the second in a 3-2 first-round playoff victory against the New York Red Bulls.
The Lakewood, Ohio native was instrumental throughout the season in link-up play from the defense to the attack, which is key to Porter’s style of play. With his uncanny ability to pick out nearly any pass and extreme level of overall passing talent, players like Nagbe who possess his combination of skill and composure are hard to come by.
Nagbe’s 94.5 percent passing accuracy in 18 appearances was the best mark in all of MLS in 2020 and marked a career-high for the midfielder, showing just how valuable he was to the Crew’s build-up play throughout the year.
The 2020 season almost seems like a storybook with the way it played out for Artur. Not only were his career-high three goals the fourth-best mark on the team, but they also came in the biggest of moments.
The first was the breakthrough goal against New York City FC on Oct. 18, which sparked a 3-1 victory and ended a four-match winless streak. The second was the breakthrough goal in a 2-1 victory against the Supporters’ Shield winner, Philadelphia Union, in one of the final games of the season. This strike proved pivotal in helping to secure the Crew a hugely important third-place finish in the Eastern Conference. The third and final was the most memorable, a precise finish in the bottom right-hand corner in the Eastern Conference final against the New England Revolution, a goal which berthed the Black & Gold into their third-ever MLS Cup Final. His four assists on the season were a career high as well.
They say that the best ability is availability and that was the case with Artur. Logging 1,831 minutes in 26 appearances, the Brazilian was on the field the third-most of any Crew player in 2020 and the most out of the central midfield group. The arrival of Nagbe benefited Artur in a big way, giving him a license to express himself in more attacking areas.
At just 19, the Black & Gold may have found themselves a future midfield gem in Morris. The Homegrown product came on as the season progressed, most notably in the absences of Nagbe, specifically in the MLS Cup Final. Morris stepped in to become the youngest player to start in the championship game and played all 90 minutes while performing at both ends of the pitch as if he had been there before.
Morris may not be flashy on the stat sheet as far as goals and assists are concerned, but he passes the eye test with flying colors. He is mature beyond his years and looks to be a key rotational piece in the Crew’s midfield arsenal.
All in all, the youngster appeared in 11 games for the Black & Gold and completed 86.3 percent of his passes, which ranked third-best among the group, just shy of Artur’s mark of 87.8 percent.
Although he did not have quite the on-field impact as Morris in 2020, Berhalter was quite close. Also a 19-year-old Homegrown midfielder, and the son of former Columbus and current United States Men’s National team coach Gregg Berhalter, Sebastian broke through and made his mark as a player to look out for in 2021 and beyond in his own right.
Despite not contributing any goals or assists on the season, Berhalter logged nine appearances while averaging 84.8 percent passing and totaling five key passes. Berhalter was statistically better as he got more appearances under his belt and did his job.
Poached from rival FC Cincinnati midseason, Alashe was solid when called upon during the year. Even though the club decided not to renew his contract for the 2021 season, Alashe leaves central Ohio with an MLS Cup to his resume and will be remembered for his lone goal scored in his Black & Gold career coming on Sept. 12 after finding the back of the net in the 68th minute of a 2-2 tie with the Chicago Fire.