Mohammed Saeid - Ignacio Piatti - April 9, 2016
Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Despite back injury, Saeid intent on patching Crew SC's Higuain-sized hole

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The playmaking portion of the patchwork Columbus Crew SC attack is still a work in progress.

Two of the biggest pieces of the team’s high-octane 2015 offense are gone, after Kei Kamara was traded in May and Federico Higuain had sports hernia surgery in June. In their places are Ola Kamara and Mohammed Saeid, respectively.

Ola had been champing at the bit to act as a natural replacement for Kei, slotting in to play a similar role with little adjustment. But Saeid is a different story. The Swedish midfielder has been asked to play every role in the Crew SC midfield since arriving at the beginning of last season, with long stints at the No. 6 and No. 8 roles.

But with Higuain out for several more weeks, Saeid is being asked to run the show from the position that he once felt most comfortable in. It’s not perfect yet, but he says it’s coming back.

“You can see when I’m in possession of the ball higher up, I’m more comfortable and I see a lot of options,” he said. “Sometimes it just takes a longer time to get back into that position, having played the 6 for so long and the 8 after that, which are different positions than the 10. It just takes a couple games to get into it; you just have to be patient.”

Saeid is no stranger to the playmaking role.

As a teenager, the diminutive Saeid was plucked from Sweden by the West Bromwich Albion academy in England, where he stayed until 2009. It was in England, he said, that he learned how to use his skills to overcome his 5-foot-7-inch frame.

“I think I was a natural technician,” he said with a laugh. “Because of my size, I had to make up for it somehow, and with my technique I would be able to get out of situations where I would need to use my body.”

In Columbus, Saeid isn’t just battling a transition, he’s battling a fractured vertebra that head coach Gregg Berhalter said has him in “a heck of a lot of pain.” The midfielder brushed off the injury, but Berhalter made it clear that he’s concerned about Saeid’s back.

“Speaking to the doctors today, they were surprised he was even able to play because of the injury, so we have to evaluate that,” Berhalter said. “In one sense, the guy is laying himself on the line for the team. In another sense, we need him for the entire year. So we have to be smart about how we deal with this.”

Injured back or not, Saeid and Berhalter know he isn’t a like-for-like replacement for Higuain.

For Saeid, it’s all about finding his comfort, staying high on the field and letting his play do the talking. And while he admitted he’s still adjusting, he says he’s getting better each match.

“The No. 10 is so different in every team,” he said. “Everyone plays it differently, whether it’s going lower down or telling someone to stay higher up. So it’s different how each coach wants it to be played. You just have to adjust to that.”