The Columbus Crew hasn’t made many moves so far this offseason, but a few of the decisions made by the team’s front office have a number of fans asking some questions. As part of the team’s annual end-of-season roster choices, the Black & Gold allowed winger/fullback Pedro Santos, winger Derrick Etienne Jr. and midfielder Artur to depart the club.
Under head coach Caleb Porter, Santos, Etienne and Artur were key figures for Columbus. Santos played 116 games for the Crew during Porter’s four years in charge, Etienne stepped on the field 83 times since signing for the Black & Gold in 2020 and Artur suited up 82 times over that span. Santos played multiple positions for Columbus, including converting to fullback from his midfield position last year. Etienne scored one of the Crew’s three goals in the 2020 MLS Cup Final. Artur, when healthy, was a mainstay in the Black & Gold’s midfield.
All three players were important for Columbus. So why are they no longer with the team? Ultimately, each had their own thinking behind the decision to let them walk.
Santos’ departure may be the easiest for even the most casual fan to figure out. The Portuguese will turn 35 early in the 2023 MLS season. Despite his versatility and general availability, Santos is well on the back end of his career.
As shown with Harrison Afful last offseason, president and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko prefers to be on the right side of a player’s decline. Afful still played 21 times for Charlotte FC in 2022, but started only 15 games, the second-fewest of his MLS career, and registered no goals or assists. He was not the same player that motored up and down the sideline at MAPFRE Stadium/Lower.com Field for seven seasons with the Crew.
It’s possible that Santos’ fall off is still a year or more away and that he will become a terror in the Eastern Conference for D.C. But the Black & Gold are betting on Father Time here and were not ready to offer Santos a new deal.
There is also the salary cap to consider with Santos. According to the MLS Players Union numbers, the Portuguese made a base salary of $625,000, the eighth-highest on the Columbus roster. Is it worth paying a player anywhere near that much money who the team believes may begin to fall off? The Crew decided no was the answer.
Etienne was also a salary cap casualty. The Haitian winger had a career season in 2022, scoring nine goals and contributing six assists. After making $175,000 in base salary last year, Etienne expected to get paid and his representatives could not reach a deal with the Black & Gold.
Given that Etienne’s stats in 2022 far exceeded anything he had done previously in his seven-year MLS career, giving him a contract with a substantial pay raise is expecting that this form will continue. That is what Atlanta hopes. Columbus doesn’t see Etienne as a top-level MLS winger and didn’t want to put resources that could be used toward another player in him.
Yes, Etienne was one of the Crew’s best players in 2022, but that was a team that struggled to make the MLS Cup playoffs, ultimately missing out on the final day. The Black & Gold want to improve and believe they can find another player who will help them do that. Etienne had some remarkable performances last year, but also had stretches where he didn’t contribute in the way Columbus needed.
With both Santos and Etienne, there is also the consideration of the team’s next head coach. As Massive Report has reported, CF Montreal’s Wilfried Nancy is the man expected to take the Crew job. The French coach has often played a 3-4-2-1 formation, which doesn’t require the same type of fullbacks or wingers as Porter’s 4-2-3-1 formation. While Nancy could adapt his style if Santos and Etienne were deemed crucial to future success, neither is a natural fit if he does in fact bring his Montreal tactics to the Black & Gold.
In the case of Artur, the decision to move the Brazilian midfielder came down to health. Artur only played in six games in 2021, and while he was healthier last year, seeing the field in 24 contests, there remain concerns about a lingering hip injury. End-of-season medical evaluations didn’t reflect favorably on the midfielder continuing to play at the level he once did for Columbus for an extended period of time, so the decision was made to move on. Receiving $350,000 in allocation money and moving more than $550,000 off the wage bill can now allow the Crew to help improve the roster elsewhere.
Oftentimes, roster decisions are more complex than it appears to the outside viewer. These are all carefully weighed choices to try and improve a roster that is talented and, the front office believes, still in a championship window. But they aren’t easy.
Like any player move, these decisions could come back and haunt the Black & Gold if Santos continues his form despite his age, Etienne builds on his career season and Artur's injury situation improves. But there were calculated reasons for moving on from players who were, at one point, crucial to Columbus’ success.