When Derrick Etienne Jr. scored the game-winning goal Saturday afternoon and clicked his heels in tribute to a former teammate, he wasn’t just celebrating his friend’s retirement – he was reiterating his emergence as a “dangerous” attacking threat.

By volleying home a Jonathan Mensah header during the second half against Toronto FC, Etienne produced his second goal of the season and propelled the Columbus Crew to first in the MLS Eastern Conference standings. He also scored the club’s conference-leading ninth goal through three games.

Through three starts in 2022, Etienne already has two goals – more than he had last year – and is on pace to produce the best attacking season of his career.

Yes, three games offer a fairly small sample size, but it’s enough time to see how Etienne has altered his game – and how the Haitian winger has been the Crew’s unsung attacking hero.

“I just wanted to be more dangerous,” Etienne said of his play entering 2022. “I saw a lot of stuff, I had to hear all of the things about how we are not creating chances and all that stuff, and I took that personally. To get one goal from playing all of those minutes [in 2021], I think that’s not good enough, so I had to show, I didn’t really care to prove to you guys ‘cause I know the type of player I was, but just to prove to myself that I can be a guy who contributes.

“I think I did well with getting assists last year, but I had to add more goals. And I’ve been blessed enough to be able to come out here and get more goals, so hopefully that continues, and we can keep going.”

In 2021, Etienne finished with a goal and a career-high five assists, but his play showed he’s a fast winger with soft feet and ample confidence. That’s a lethal combination for a winger, especially one who is eager to take defenders on and often dribble around them. But his touch isn’t teachable – which he proved in the season opener when he caressed a cross from Yaw Yeboah and guided the ball into the net.

The Haitian international produced a career-high five assists last year and already has a couple in 2022. What we’re seeing now is a player who’s redefining his potential as the Crew try to reclaim their championship-caliber form from two years ago.

But what we’re also seeing is Etienne taking more risks.

He’s taken 11 shots through the first three games: five in the season opener, then three in each of the last two games. For context, Etienne only took three shots or more on three occasions throughout last season.

In fact, before taking five shots against Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Feb. 26, Etienne hadn’t taken at least four shots in a game since Oct. 6, 2018. That season was also when he produced a career-high five goals for the New York Red Bulls.

\Now entering his eighth season in the league, he’s proven his ability to create opportunities and find openings for teammates to score. But if he can continue doing that while also being more selfish in the final third, Etienne will offer an attacking venom from the wings that was largely absent for the Black & Gold throughout 2022.

It’s too early in the season to make any serious projections. However, it’s not too early to see Etienne took 2021 criticisms personally and has channeled that into an exhilarating start to the new campaign.

Interested in 2022 Season Tickets?
Interested in 2022 Season Tickets?