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Sergio Santos benefiting from veteran presence in Philadelphia Union locker room

Santos has dealt with injuries and bad form, but he may be a key contributor down the stretch and in the playoffs.

Aug 31, 2019; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Union forward Sergio Santos (17) reacts after a victory against the Atlanta United at Talen Energy Stadium. (Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)
Aug 31, 2019; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Union forward Sergio Santos (17) reacts after a victory against the Atlanta United at Talen Energy Stadium. (Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)

CHESTER, Pa. — Sergio Santos’ first year in Major League Soccer has not gone as planned. 

The Brazilian forward has been in and out of the Philadelphia Union’s match-day squad, but thanks to the veteran leadership in the side, he has worked through injuries and bad form to remain ready. 

After sitting on the sideline for more than a month, Santos provided a goal and an assist off the bench in the Union’s 3-1 win over Atlanta United last Saturday. 

Center back Aurélien Collin and left back Fabinho are two of the Portuguese-speaking players who have helped ease the transition for Santos, who played in Chile before moving to MLS.

“They’ve been very important in helping me understand these things and they’ve been through it all before,” Santos told Pro Soccer USA through an interpreter. “Fabi’s been really important in helping me understand that these things happen in football and he gave me the example of he’s not hurt right now, but he’s not getting the minutes.” 

“Collin has told me the story throughout his career that he’s been first team in a bunch of different places and he’s not necessarily getting the minutes that he’s used to, but he keeps working every day. They’ve been very important in helping me understand all of that and telling me to be calm, take your time, don’t rush it because these things happen. You just have to get through it and keep working day in and day out and you’ll get back.” 

At the start of the season, the Union had three other Brazilians on the roster in Fabinho, Ilsinho and on-loan goalkeeper Carlos Miguel Coronel, who has since returned to Red Bull Salzburg. 

“I think the fact that we had Carlos, Ilsinho, Fabinho and myself that we were able to speak Portuguese was good for him,” Collin told Pro Soccer USA. 

“[Santos] has this natural potential and strength that fits very well for the league. He took a little bit of time to adapt, then he got an injury, but I’m sure the club has a lot of belief in him and he needs to keep working. That was a great reflection of who he is in the last game and he needs to keep scoring.” 

Even though it would be easy for Santos to get frustrated with his first campaign in MLS, he has remained positive while fighting through a few injuries. 

“I don’t think difficult is the right word,” Santos said. “It’s more bad timing, bad luck that I’ve had. I’ve had some injuries here and there that have kept me out and because of that you lose some rhythm, keeps you out of training sometimes and then you have to fight your way back in. It’s just bad luck in terms of that. I come back from one and then I get more bad luck and pick up another. I just had to sit there and bide my time. After I got through that bad luck, I kept working hard to get myself back in and show the team I am ready to come back.” 

The transition to a more physical league in MLS and the off-field challenges that come with a cross-continent move have been viewed as opportunities to grow for the 25-year-old, who is on a longterm deal with the first-place side in the Eastern Conference. 

“It’s a big change,” Santos said. “It’s a big league with a lot of great players here. It’s one of those things where the difficulty is higher, but it also adds to the experience. It helps you grow as a player in your career and the experience just keeps getting better. It’s difficult and it’s a big change, but I love it.” 

Santos’ most impactful performances have come off the bench. He also bagged a brace in May against the New England Revolution.

If he shows the same pace and technical ability from Saturday for the rest of the season, he could be a valuable piece in the final five contests of the regular season and playoffs. 

“It’s a big stretch of games, we know that,” Santos said. “We just have to keep playing like we have been. It’s a tough team, especially LAFC, that’s coming up [on September 14], as well as the games after that. We have to keep playing well at home.”

Santos sees his team’s confidence “rising game to game.”

“We just have to keep within ourselves, keeping playing strong at home,” he said. “If everyone contributes, we get three points from each of these games coming up and we take care of business in the playoffs.” 

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