As “The Star-Spangled Banner” echoed inside Field, Artur rocked side to side and held back his tears. Occasionally, each deep breath sent big white clouds into the chilly winter air. To collect himself, he’d look down as he tried to dislodge the knot in his throat.

And then there was the wavering lips that revealed the unwavering appreciation the Brazilian had for the moment.

On Saturday afternoon, Artur made his Field debut and returned to the Columbus Crew lineup for the first time since last May. Since then, he had two surgeries and was kept sidelined. He couldn’t lift the Campeones Cup with his teammates; he couldn’t help them earn one more point to make the 2021 playoffs.

To say that any player appreciated the moment he can return to the field is overly obvious. But then there’s a deeper appreciation – one that’s hard to describe unless it can be witnessed. We witnessed that appreciation on Saturday.

Throughout the 69 minutes he played in the 4-0 win against Vancouver Whitecaps FC, Artur reminded everyone what they missed: a scrappy defensive midfielder who pulls the strings for the Crew as if he was a conductor leading an orchestra.

“He brings something no one else can bring,” Miguel Berry said of Artur. “He makes us the Columbus Crew again.”

Artur finished the victory with 65 touches and 53 passes with an 84% accuracy. Defensively, he added a block and an interception. These aren’t eye-popping stats but they reiterate what his presence means to the Black & Gold.

The Crew’s four goals already tied last year’s season high. Add that to allowing no shots on target and Columbus produced a near-perfect campaign opener.

By including Artur back in the midfield alongside Darlington Nagbe, the home side remained calm and collected. There weren’t any moments when the Whitecaps looked particularly threatening; there were just times when the Crew weren’t as precise.

“We all know what (Artur) is about when he’s healthy and ready to fight for the team, and he showed it,” said captain Jonathan Mensah. After a long time being out, we are so happy and grateful that he is back. And we hope he continues fighting and helping the team win games.”

Saturday marked Artur’s sixth season with the Crew and his first match since May 29 – a 2-1 win against Toronto FC at Historic Crew Stadium.

It’s unrealistic to expect Artur to begin this season at his peak performance level. After all, he missed some of the preseason and didn’t play the complete match against Vancouver. But when he’s available, his presence in the team sheet has correlated with the Crew accumulating points.

In his last 20 appearances (across all competitions), Columbus is unbeaten in 16 of those games, including a dozen wins. The club is hoping that trend continues while Artur remains healthy.

“He’s put his body through everything to get it back to where he was today,” Berry said. “You could see what he brings to the table. Not only excellent performance, but as a leader in the locker room and in the team … You can’t replace a leader like that. Someone who fights for the team, someone who is vocal like that.”

Artur maybe be vocal on the field, but his emotions during the pre-game ceremonies said everything without the Brazilian speaking a word.

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