The Columbus Crew has the oldest roster in Major League Soccer by about one year on average. The defending MLS champions brought in experienced pieces to help in a title defense. Right now, the story of this team is its youth and at the center of that is striker Miguel Berry. Beside him in that limelight is Romanian winger Alexandru Matan.
The 22 year old was signed by the club in the winter to be a long-term attacking player that can help the Black & Gold’s future. In 2021, Matan has already made a significant impact on his team despite not having an official goal contribution on the stat sheet. He might not have that goal or assist but Matan off the bench has contributed towards recent Crew goals and points.
Matan has played in 23 games this season, 15 of them as a substitute. He has had to come off the bench of late in comeback efforts with the Crew going down in most of its games in the last two and a half months.
On the attack, Matan dribbles at defenders and gets shots on the target. It’s clear Matan is one of the best dribblers on the team and he has one of the best players of all time to thank.
“I had these qualities since I went to Hagi’s Academy,” Matan of his dribbling this week. “What can I say, I’ve developed as a player and I have grown a lot and I thank him for that opportunity.”
Matan learned underneath former Romanian footballer Gheorghe Hagi, unequivocally the greatest player in Romania’s history. Nicknamed “The Maradona of the Carpathians” and one of the Crew’s bright, young stars learned a lot of his game from him. You can see those skills every time Matan steps on the field and dribbles at defenders.
Despite the success off the bench to open up the offense, Matan hasn’t had many starts with just eight this season. Head coach Caleb Porter said he wants to see more consistency from Matan with him yet to be able to play a full 90 minutes like he does the 25 to 30 minutes off the bench.
“I need to play more games so I can take the rhythm,” said Matan in response. “Of course, in training, I need to be better sometimes but for sure, I would promise that will come soon.”
The Romanian’s work doesn’t stop on the pitch with the 22 year old living on his own in a foreign country. Matan has been in the United States living independently for five months now in what many could describe as a difficult situation.
“First impression (of the USA) is pretty good,” said Matan. “If we think about the circumstances, my family and girlfriend can’t get a visa now, so I am up here alone. I think, in my opinion, I’ve done a pretty good job. Since I came here, I thought it would be so hard for me considering the circumstances. But the first day, they (the Crew) have been like family to me. They have been so friendly and I really appreciate that.”
Matan has done pretty well on and off the field in 2021. The future is bright for him in black and gold. Now he needs to continue to make an impact, starting or off the bench, with just nine games left in the regular season.
“What I really want right now is to make the playoffs,” said Matan.