OBETZ, Ohio – Columbus Crew SC have a new marquee name, and the club is counting on him to make an impact right away.
And while coach Gregg Berhalter doesn’t want to pin his team’s hopes to one man, he admitted he has high expectations for Santos.
“We’re expecting a lot from everyone,” Berhalter said. “I think he’s going to be a key contributor; he’s going to have to contribute for us to be successful.”
Santos comes to Columbus from Sporting Braga in Portugal, where he made more than 70 Primeira Liga appearances and competed in the UEFA Europa League.
The winger – through a team translator – described himself as a “fast player” who “likes to play one-on-one” and “likes to score.” Berhalter gave a more nuanced take on his new attacker.
“He’s very smart and very good technically,” Berhalter said. “He’ll be able to change the rhythm of the game – to slow the game down at times and bring other players into the game. And then around goal, you talk about making the final pass or scoring the final shot, he has that ability.”
But for Santos, the move isn’t just about his on-field career.
While he said he didn’t know much about MLS or Columbus before Berhalter reached out to him, Santos said he “liked what the offer meant to my family,” and was thrilled to come to America.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to come live over here,” he said. “So when I was given the option to come live in the U.S., I didn’t think about it twice. I’m happy because my family is here with me.”
Santos is one of just four Portuguese players in MLS, but he and Berhalter expect that number to increase.
Berhalter said the Primeira Liga has often been too expensive in the past, with lower-level clubs selling to higher-level clubs and higher-level clubs selling to European giants for “extraordinary prices.” But he said Portuguese players are coming into MLS’s price range, and are a good value.
“Typically, the Portuguese are good at adapting to foreign countries,” he said. “Portugal is a league that produces a lot of exports.”
And Santos believes Portuguese exposure to MLS is greater than ever.
“There’s no doubt that interest in MLS is growing,” he said. “Every day you hear more and more about MLS, and people are talking about it with more frequency.”
Santos said he’s watched “a little bit” of MLS since he began discussing a move, and has grown more familiar with the league.
And while he had to be filled in a bit about how MLS playoffs work, he seemed to have the most important bit of knowledge as his new team fights for a place in the postseason.
“Any team that makes the playoffs has the chance to win the Cup,” he said.