OBETZ, Ohio – Thanks to a midseason acquisition, the Columbus Crew SC backline finally has an enforcer.
While their high-octane offense kept them in plenty of games throughout the season, Columbus could rarely hold opponents in check. They allowed more goals than any playoff team other than Toronto FC and didn’t register a single shutout between July 15 and Oct. 17.
But after recovering from a concussion three minutes into his debut, Gaston Sauro – acquired from FC Basel in August – has not only solidified the backline, but has brought a physical and imposing nature to the group that was missing for most of the season.
“I think the whole team appreciates it,” defender and club captain Michael Parkhurst said. “It’s always good to have somebody in your corner who’s not going to back down from anybody. You need to have that physical presence on the field. Tony [Tchani] provides that in the midfield and Kei [Kamara] up front, and Gaston provides that in the center of defense.”
Parkhurst is admittedly a more cerebral, tactical player who, as captain, keeps a cool head on the field. He had been partnered largely with Tyson Wahl in defense this season, thanks to head coach Gregg Berhalter losing faith in Emanuel Pogatetz.
With the physical Sauro next to him, Parkhurst says “it’s nice to play with somebody that brings that to the table.”
And Sauro’s physicality was never more on display than against Didier Drogba last Sunday. A bloodied, wide-eyed Sauro standing chin-to-chin with one of MLS’s most intimidating striker showed his willingness to use that physicality to his advantage and stand up for his teammates in the process.
“It’s all about an attitude I have; it’s all about why I’m here,” Sauro said through a translator. “When I first spoke to Gregg, [I told him] it’s to come here to fight for the league and fight for a championship. These are things that come out as a player because you feel it, and I feel it. That’s where it comes from.”
Sauro says his job is simply to “get the ball, take the ball away and find my teammates,” and that he’s not looking for the physical challenges. But in situations like the Montreal matchup, he says it’s a necessity.
“Those might be some characteristics that I have, but that’s my job as a defender,” he said. “When you’re marking, you’ve got to be aggressive, especially with a guy like Drogba. If you’re not aggressive, then those kinds of players can really hurt you.”
Next to Parkhurst, Sauro is the perfect complementary player. While Parkhurst excels in passing and organization, he can rely on the six-foot-three Sauro to provide the muscle.
“Forwards know that he’s there,” Parkhurst said. “I don’t think [Sebastian] Giovinco had a good time playing against him, and I don’t think Drogba had a good time playing against him on the weekend. So that’s a sign that he’s done a good job.”
It isn’t just fellow defenders who have taken notice of Sauro’s demeanor.
Wil Trapp, who spends most of his time in front of the central defenders, says “it’s a little different” to have a personality like Sauro behind him.
“He’s a huge acquisition for us, both through the way he plays and in his mannerisms and body language and communication,” he said. “He exudes confidence; he’s a natural leader. It’s something that we love back there in the center back role, a guy who you can really rely on to crunch a guy when a guy needs to be crunched. He’s a physical beast, but he’s a smart player as well.”