The Columbus Crew’s offseason consisted of bringing a number of Major League Soccer veterans to the club such as Bradley Wright-Phillips, Kevin Molino and Perry Kitchen. Perhaps the biggest headline of the Black & Gold’s offseason, however, was the signing of 21-year-old Romanian winger Alexandru Matan for a reported $1.8 million. While the former three are known around American soccer circles, little was known about Matan.
Friday afternoon, he spoke with the media to introduce himself and how he found his way to Columbus. This came a little less than a week after he made his debut in Sunday’s 0-0 draw against the Philadelphia Union. Matan played six minutes and his first touch was met with a hard tackle from Alejandro Bedoya.
Matan said on his debut, “It was tough because I had COVID and I had 10 days in isolation and I was surprised and I want to thank the boss that he trusts me and I think in six minutes I did some good things.”
As he gets more settled with his new team and in a new city, Crew fans will see Matan play a multitude of positions including the No. 10 role in rotation for Lucas Zelarayan.
“We can understand each other,” said Matan. “I congratulated him for the last season and he had a huge season in my opinion. He gave me a warm welcome and I just love to play alongside him.”
Primarily though, Matan plays as a winger. While he can play on either side, his focus is on the left where he is able to cut inside for shots on his stronger right foot. He described himself as a “quick player with some good technical abilities.” He later commented he doesn’t love to talk about himself but would rather let his play do the talking.
Matan’s play certainly did the talking in the months leading up to his signing to Columbus from Romanian club Viitorul Constanta. Head coach Caleb Porter and others were excited to bring him in and Matan was certainly excited to come to the Crew after initial discussions on the move.
“When I first heard about that team, my agent told me and after (director of scouting) Neil McGuinness came to Romania,” Matan said, “he showed me everything from here and I loved that. The city, the team that were champions. These were the things that helped my decision.”
Outside of coming to an MLS club, a league in which Matan’s most familiarity was watching games with former LA Galaxy striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, this was a big step in his life moving away from Romania for the first time.
“It’s my first time in another country and, to be honest, for the first country to be the U.S., it’s an amazing thing,” the winger explained. “I just dreamed about that when I was a kid and when you dream, it happens.”
Matan spent his entire playing career before joining the Black & Gold in his native Romania and began his professional soccer journey at the age of 10 when he joined Gheorghe Hagi’s Academy in Constanta, which is a little over 200 kilometers from his family in the city of Galati. Because of that, he is used to being independent and looking out for himself, something a lot of young aspiring soccer players in Europe have in common with Matan.
Outside of his club play, Matan plays for the youth Romanian national team with his most recent appearances coming in this past March’s Under-21 European Championships. He started all three matches for Romania, scoring one goal and provided an assist in a win against Hungary. He is excited to contribute for Columbus and Romania.
“I think Romanian football has to become again what it was,” Matan said. “We used to play good football and we had a lot of good players but now we have to raise again the level.”
Matan is certainly a unique player for the Black & Gold but his skill set of being an agile, quick, attacking player will help the Crew’s depth for this season and for his future at the club and beyond. MLS is a league where shorter players with quick speed and dribbling have thrived with the likes of Sebastian Giovinco, Alejandro Pozuelo and Maxi Moralez coming to mind.
Having learned from arguably the greatest Romanian soccer player ever, Matan has the potential to contribute like those players and develop into someone that plays for his country’s national team and makes a footprint in Columbus. With the squad having its next six matches taking place within a 19-day period, fans will certainly see more of Matan in Crew uniform very soon.