Age at MLS Cup: 32
Hometown: Lisbon, Portugal
2020 IN ALL COMPETITIONS
Pedro Santos signed with the Crew in August of 2017 as Designated Player, but it was in 2019 that he took his game to another level. That year, he scored 11 goals and added 6 assists, becoming the 20th player in Crew history to ever record a season of at least five goals and five assists. He followed it up with an even better 2020 campaign, recording 6 goals and 8 assists in the abbreviated season. (He was on pace for 9 goals and 12 assists, within striking distance of joining Jeff Cunningham and Ethan Finlay as the only Crew players to record double digits in both categories.) Even with the COVID-shortened season, Santos became just the 8th player in Crew history to record multiple years of 5+ goals and assists, joining Federico Higuain (6x), Brian McBride (5x), Jeff Cunningham (4x), Guillermo Barros Schelotto (3x), Ethan Finlay (3x), Justin Meram (3x), and Brian West (2x.). That’s some impressive company.
Oh, and when he whips in crosses, they look like this…
Oh, and when he scores, sometimes it’s ridiculous stuff like this…
And sometimes it’s a hugely important playoff goal like this one to give the Crew the lead in extra time against Nashville, one of the Crew’s biggest goals on the march to the 2020 MLS Cup title.
And as Josh Williams will point out, the offensive exploits are only half of Pedro’s game. It’s a shame he had to miss MLS Cup due to COVID-19, because he was an integral part of the championship season on both sides of the ball.
THROUGH JOSH’S EYES
“I think, offensively, he has taken his game to another level in the past two years. And if you surround him with good players, which we did, his level just rises because with that left foot, he can find anybody on the field. Outside of the foot, inside of the foot, driven ball, curled ball…he just has the ability to whip balls in. He’s got a magic left foot.
“A good thing about Pedro is that you can play him on either side. Pick your poison. If you play him on the right, he can cut in and hit it with his left. We’ve seen that many times. And if you play him on the left, he has the ability to beat guys down the line and curl one in for another guy. So I think one of his main attributes is that he is interchangeable where you can play him on either side. That’s helpful to our team.
“But as a defender, I think what I appreciate most about Pedro is his willingness to play defense, his ability to hold and just always be in the right position. His positional intelligence is so good. And for a winger, especially how we play and the way our press operates, he’s one of our triggers. I feel like his movement dictates a lot of other people’s movements. He almost always makes the right decision in terms of when to press and when to stay. Like, how to show a guy down the line. I feel like he and Milton have a really good connection on the left side when Pedro is over there. I love when he’s there because he’s always so dependable. When you have him and Milton over there, you don’t even have to worry about that side. All you have to do is convey little bits of information. They’re almost always going to shut down that side.
“So as good as he is offensively, I think I most appreciate his positional intelligence and his willingness to track back and get back every single time. So if a ball squirts out on a cross, or if the other team has a right back who likes to get forward a lot, he’s someone who is always going to track back and always be in the right position. And then offense, we ask him to beat guys to the end line on the left, or if he’s on the right, to get into the box. Having a guy doing that box to box work is crucial for a team, especially when it’s a guy who can score big goals. He’s another guy who could have an ego and not want to do all that work, but that’s just not him. I think that speaks to his character.
“The communicating I’m doing to Pedro and Milton is telling them to tackle and win everything so I don’t have to do anything. It’s basically telling them to do all my work for me. (laughs.) No, my job with them is to mostly keep them on their toes when the ball is on the other side of the field, just making sure that they’re pinched in. Normally, when I look over in their direction, they’re already there so I don’t even have to say anything. I love that. I can save my voice. When the ball is on their side, I am telling them to be aggressive and that I’ve got their back because I think our team is best when we’re on the front foot and we’re the aggressor. It’s never good when we’re on our back foot and moving backwards because then the other team has the upper hand. I feel like the most athletic you can be is when you’re moving forward. It’s never good to be moving backwards because you’re not as athletic moving backwards. With Pedro, it’s mostly telling him when to force a guy outside or inside or to make sure he tracks back to help Milton. And again, I’m probably saying something once every other game because I usually don’t need to say anything to him at all because of his experience and his fitness level. He’s one of the fittest guys on the team. He runs himself to death and never looks tired, especially when he gets the ball. He finds new energy when he gets the ball.
“In New England was the one game where he did look tired. He had a lot to do, but he ended up finishing the game. He’d fall down and I’d ask, ‘You good?’ He’d say, ‘I’m tired.’ I’d say, ‘Get your ass up.’ So then he springs up, finds the ball, and goes on another 60-yard sprint. I just remember thinking that with the ball, this guy’s never tired.
“He sits right next to me so I’ve gotten to know Pedro over the years. In the team threads, he’s like Arty. I swear him and Arty always have the best responses to any text message from Julio, our team operations guy. They are always going at Julio with some kind of GIF or meme. Pedro’s another guy who doesn’t say a lot, but when he does, it’s meaningful. He’s a very funny guy and he’s got a lot of hilarious stuff on his phone that he spreads out to the guys on the team. I’ve sat next to him for years now, both at the stadium and the training facility, and he’s just a funny and intelligent guy. And a family guy. He loves his family. He’s someone I have a lot of respect for.”
“When they brough the trophy to his house, I’m sure that meant a lot to him. Him and D are two guys who are really liked on the team. And Pedro has been here a really long time. He’s another guy that’s kind of hard to read at times because he doesn’t place a lot of emphasis on things that aren’t necessarily important. I don’t mean that soccer isn’t important because it obviously is to all of us. But I was talking to the trainer, and he said when he told Pedro he was positive for COVID and would miss MLS Cup, Pedro was just like, ‘That sucks, but what can I really do about it? I can’t do anything about it.’ And then he was in communication with the team the whole time. It sucked because he earned the right to be in that game. He earned that for all the work he had done. I knew we were going to miss him, but he was so supportive of all of us. So I’m glad he got the trophy brought to him and his family and he got to have that moment.”
[NOTE: To see a clickable list of earlier installments of this Josh Williams series or other MLS Cup related posts, please click HERE.]
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