The Columbus Crew relied on a committee of wingers during the 2020 season, with the positions on the left and right marked by near-constant rotation based on team needs, availability, and injuries. Of the five wingers who featured, all of them made at least 10 appearances and four of them made 10 or more starts. While Pedro Santos had a lock on one of the starting roles, the other remained open, with players seemingly only able to keep the starting spot for a few games at a time.
Before looking ahead to how the team has already improved the position in 2021, it’s time to look at the wingers who played for the Black & Gold in 2020. As Massive Report continues with its position-by-position roster evaluation of last year’s campaign, here is how the wingers performed.
In his third full season with the Black & Gold, Santos continued right where he left off in 2019, scoring eight goals and assisting another eight in the 2020 regular season and playoffs. An undisputed starter and one of the most consistent members of the Black & Gold, Santos appeared in 26 of the Crew’s 28 games, starting all of them.
Santos started three of the four games at the MLS is Back Tournament, recording an assist in a 2-0 win against the New York Red Bulls. The Portuguese did not score against until September but quickly got into form, scoring or assisting in nine of Columbus’ final 15 games (usually with his trademark shot from the edge of the box). With Lucas Zelarayan out for a critical stretch, Santos was a key goal-scoring threat and a bright spot for the Crew during the rough patch of late September to early November.
Despite not scoring in the last five games of the regular season, Santos remained in good form going into the playoffs. He scored the first Black & Gold goal in the 3-2 win against the Red Bulls in the first round as well as the opening goal against Nashville SC in extra time in the following round.
Santos, unfortunately, had to sit out the MLS Cup Final after being placed on the medically not cleared to play list the week leading up to the game. While his and Darlington Nagbe’s absence caused a lot of consternation for Crew fans, the Black & Gold were still able to brush the Seattle Sounders aside to win MLS Cup.
After arriving in July 2019, Diaz remained a key piece on the wing with 26 appearances and 18 starts, second-most among the wingers. While Diaz did not match his 2019 total of two goals and four assists — recording only three assists in the regular season — he did show noticeable improvement in his performances as the season went on, particularly in the playoffs.
While Diaz rotated like most of the wingers, he had the longest stretch of starts among the rotation, with a run of seven games started from mid-September to early October. During this period and many of his other appearances during the season, Diaz had great runs down the wing but always seemed to be missing that finishing touch, too often putting the ball over the goal. While staying in the rotation, Diaz was used as an impact sub for a few of the last games of the regular season, designed to run down tired defenses with his speed and fresh legs.
The Costa Rican came alive in the playoffs, starting three of the four games, including the MLS Cup Final. His work rate was excellent throughout and he was smarter in choosing whether or not to shoot. This culminated with his assist for Zelarayan’s second goal in the Final, a chance that Diaz easily could have taken himself. He instead chose to pass to the wide-open Argentine who iced the game. Diaz’s playoff performances showed maturity and growth that he will hopefully carry into the next season as he fights for more minutes.
Derrick Etienne Jr.
Signed in February after he was released by FC Cincinnati as a depth piece, Etienne ended 2020 by laying claim to one of the most memorable moments in Crew history.
Leading up to his unexpected start in the MLS Cup Final, Etienne made 24 appearances for Columbus, most of them coming off the bench. He spent most of the season competing for time on either side of the field against the other wingers.
Etienne started four of the last six matches of the regular season and was tapped to start on the right in the first-round playoff game against his former Red Bulls club. He ended up with an assist on Gyasi Zardes’ goal that won the match. Despite this, Etienne did not appear in either of the next two games (although Porter made few substitutions against Nashville and New England).
Etienne was given the start in the MLS Cup Final after Santos was medically not cleared to play. Thirty minutes into the game, he scored to put Columbus up 2-0, putting the perfect curve on the ball to get it past a stretched out Stefan Frei. Regardless of whether or not he was supposed to start the match, Etienne made sure to etch his name in Crew history.
Mokhtar began the season as part of the rotation along the left wing, seeming to have the upper hand over his competition for part of the year. Mokhtar was in good form at the MLS is Back Tournament, scoring once and assisting another goal in a 4-0 shellacking of Cincinnati and had the lone goal in a 1-0 win against Atlanta United.
The winger went off with a leg injury in that same game against Atlanta and didn’t return to action until the end of August. Upon his return, Mokhtar started seven games and appeared in seven more, scoring only one other goal all season in a 2-2 draw with FC Dallas. He made his last appearance for the club as a substitute in a loss to Orlando City at the beginning of November. He made no appearances in the MLS Cup playoffs.
Acquired from D.C. United in a trade for Axel Sjoberg in August, Boateng appeared in only 12 games for the Black & Gold, all but three of which were as a substitute. He assisted Santos on the game-tying goal in the 2-2 draw with FC Dallas, his lone helper of the season.
His three starts came in a three-game stretch in mid-October when the Crew struggled to put together a good run of form. He made two playoff appearances, coming on as a late substitute against Nashville and the New England Revolution.