Pedro Santos' contributions ramp up as Crew SC roll in MLS Cup Playoffs

Pedro Santos - Columbus Crew SC - shot

OBETZ, Ohio – Columbus Crew SC are peaking at the right time, and so is their newest Designated Player.

The club signed Portuguese playmaker Pedro Santos August 8, allowing the winger eight regular-season starts to adjust to his new club. He managed just two assists in those matches and has yet to register his first MLS goal, but he’s certainly shown flashes of danger and created chances for his teammates.

And even more encouraging for Columbus, the team is still unbeaten when Santos sees the field.

Santos’ teammates are more than willing to sing his praises, talking about his training-session free kicks and breakneck speed on the counterattack. But Justin Meram said there’s another level left in Santos that hasn’t come out just yet, and likened his adjustment to defender Jonathan Mensah, whose early season troubles have given way to largely consistent performances.

“You saw with Mensah, from the first half of the season to the second half, it’s night and day,” Meram said. “He’s solid back there now. It’s just understanding [the league] and getting your feet wet. If I moved to a different country with another language, things would be different for me as well.”

Santos said the on-field transition has been an easy one. He described his role in Columbus as “the same” as his days playing for Braga in Portugal, and said it’s been a smooth adjustment.

“In Braga, I played a little more inside, but I think it’s the same [here],” he said. “Some games, I need to play more inside, some games I need to play more outside. So I feel comfortable.”

Part of that adjustment has been getting to know the players around him on the field. Santos and fullback Harrison Afful said their right-side partnership has been great for both players, and playmaker Federico Higuain said Santos has improved “a lot” since joining the club, which he called “a big deal for us.”

Given all the factors at play, head coach Gregg Berhalter said he’s far from upset about Santos’ lack of goals. He said the winger makes up for the lack of stats in the many areas on the field in which he excels.

“His defensive contribution is excellent, his positioning is excellent, his movement is excellent, his work rate is excellent, so he’s doing good,” Berhalter said. “What he give us is a game intelligence that’s vital for that position. That’s what’s helping us. We would like for him to score and get assists, and we know that’s going to come.”

Many of those characteristics were on display in Columbus’ 4-1 romp over New York City FC Tuesday, when Santos helped set up the game’s first goal and generally created havoc with his speed and dribbling ability.

Santos wasn’t quite ready to say it was his best game in MLS, but he admitted he’s getting more confident by the day.

“I feel better and better in the games,” he said. “When I have the ball, I feel more confident, and I think everybody can see that in my game.”