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Anatomy of a Goal: Santos keeps the Crew’s playoff dream alive

This week, we look at Pedro Santos’s game-winning goal against D.C. United.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at D.C. United Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Anatomy of a Goal, where each week we dissect one goal (or near goal) from a previous Columbus Crew match.

For match 33 of the 2021 MLS season, we take a look at Pedro Santos’ 66th minute goal that gave the Crew a 2-1 lead against D.C. United, helped cement a win and kept Columbus’ playoff aspirations alive.

Here is a look at the goal from the Black & Gold’s winger.

The Crew made the trip to D.C. on Saturday needing to win to keep the team’s MLS Cup playoff chances alive. It’s no secret that Columbus has struggled mightily on the road but few of those road matches held the stakes of Saturday’s contest.

United struck first with Paul Arriola finding the net in the third minute and immediately setting off alarm bells for the Black & Gold. The Crew recovered well and found the match-tying goal from a Lucas Zelarayan penalty kick in the 45th minute.

Santos’ game-winner begins with center back Josh Williams in possession just outside the Columbus goal box. Williams is pursued by Yordy Reyna and has three options. He can continue to carry the ball toward the goal line, play a drop pass to goalkeeper Eloy Room or play a difficult square pass around Reyna to left back Milton Valenzuela.

Williams makes the safe choice and plays the ball back to his goalkeeper.

Room attempts a long clearance but gets too far under the ball and sends a short clearance high into the air.

The ball falls well short of midfield where right back Harrison Afful and Drew Skundrich battle for possession.

Skundrich out-positions Afful and sends a lofted header toward midfielder Liam Fraser.

Fraser turns to get a foot on the ball and prevent it from reaching former Black & Gold striker Ola Kamara.

Fraser just gets a foot on the ball before it reaches Kamara.

Unfortunately, Fraser redirects the ball right to Kamara’s head.

Kamara doesn’t expect the deflection from Fraser and hits an awkward headed pass toward midfielder Darlington Nagbe.

Kamara chases the ball while Nagbe sets up to receive the header and turn up field.

Nagbe does what he does better than almost anyone in MLS and quickly turns up field to prevent Kamara from engaging a counter press.

Nagbe sets off the counter attack while Santos makes a run just on the left side of the midfield circle.

Nagbe takes a few steps forward and finds himself with a number of options. He can play a long pass out in front of Santos, hit a quick pass forward to Zelarayan, continue to carry the ball forward or try a diagonal pass forward to Miguel Berry.

Nagbe sees the space in front of Santos and hits a pass into the path of the winger.

Andy Najar attempts to slide into the path of Nagbe’s pass but is a half-second too late.

Santos picks up the ball, with Najar still on the turf, and sets off on the attack.

Santos carries forward with no one between him and D.C.’s goal. Zelarayan trails behind while Berry and right winger Derrick Etienne make parallel runs just even with the Portuguese winger.

Santos, Berry and Etienne continue forward forcing United goalkeeper Bill Hamid to step out and attempt to cut down Santos’ shooting angle.

Santos enters the goal box and finds himself with three options. He can either attempt a shot on goal, attempt to beat Hamid on the dribble or play a pass out in front of Etienne.

Channeling Columbus legend Federico Higuain, Santos chips a shot over Hamid.

Hamid is unable to get a finger on the ball as it sails over him toward the goal.

The ball takes a bounce right in front of the goal...

...and makes its way to the back of the net!

Findings:

  1. At times this season, the Columbus center backs have bungled what should be simple defensive possessions. This time, Williams makes a safe, smart play and finds his goalkeeper.
  2. Room’s awkward clearance combines with some chaotic midfield play that results in the ball falling right in front of Nagbe.
  3. Nagbe is one of the best transitional midfielders in MLS. His ability to take a ball from the defensive end and quickly move it forward is a vital asset to the Black & Gold.
  4. Perhaps inspired by the retirement announcement of his former teammate, Higuain, Santos delivers a Pipa-like chip to keep the Crew in the MLS Cup playoff hunt.