Pedro Santos is becoming the Crew’s not-so-secret weapon.
The Portuguese winger has always been an attacking threat in the Crew’s offense, but his versatility in other positions has been a catalyst for the Club’s recent success.
Head coach Caleb Porter said momentum switched in his team’s favor last weekend against New York City FC when Santos was deployed as a left-back in the second half. What followed was two late goals and the club’s first road win since 2019.
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On Saturday afternoon, Santos started at left-back and produced two assists for the first time in his 100 league appearances for The Crew, as Columbus beat Toronto FC, 2-1, at Historic Crew Stadium.
“I thought Pedro was the man of the match because he had to play left-back and holding mid,” Porter said after the win. “Neither one is his position, but he is a team guy and he’ll do whatever it takes to help our team win.”
Santos’ first assist directly led to The Crew’s first league goal from open play.
Atop the box in the 12th minute, he controlled a loose ball from a Toronto corner and sent it upfield, where Luis Diaz beat two TFC defenders in a footrace and slotted the home side into the lead.
WATCH | Pedro Santos leads Luis Diaz for a full-field breakaway goal
Nine minutes later, Santos had his second assist when he delivered a perfect in-swinging cross into the box for Gyasi Zardes to double the scoreline.
WATCH | Pedro Santos with a curling service for Gyasi Zardes' goal
“I thought Pedro had a phenomenal game,” Zardes said. “Whether he’s playing left-back, left-mid, even center-mid, you know he’s so versatile, and I’m so happy he got man of the match because he worked hard for it.”
Santos finished Saturday with a team-high three chances created. His 81 touches were also tied for a team-high, while he completed 52 passes with a 69.2% passing accuracy.
His two assists reiterated his attacking capabilities, in addition to a strong defensive showing. He finished with four tackles won while gaining possession a team-best 16 times.
“We just felt like we needed a bit more quality on service,” Porter said regarding why Santos started at left-back. “We’re really missing Milton (Valenzuela) and his ability to overlap and get crosses in. I thought Pedro really showed a little bit of why we miss Milton. It’s great for him to get an assist there. I thought he was dangerous all game there from that position.
“You saw the last game when we made the move to put him at left-back against New York City, it kind of turned the game. We knew we had that in our bag a little bit if we needed it, and we felt it was a perfect game to play him there. It made sense, and then that allowed us also to put on Derrick (Etienne Jr.), and I thought Derrick had his best game of the year.”
While Santos is a short-term solution at left-back, his versatility could be crucial for The Crew throughout 2021. The sample size is small, but the 33-year-old has proven he can be an impactful fullback and reliable holding midfielder, if necessary.
Offensively, he led the Crew in 2020 with seven assists, and his two against Toronto are the Club’s only assists so far in league play in 2021.
Columbus has a three-week break until its next match on June 19 – the last at Historic Crew Stadium. That time off should allow players to recharge and recover for a busy summer. It could also provide more time for Santos to become more comfortable playing in multiple positions. He’s already shown his effectiveness, even with limited minutes away from the left-wing.