One game into Columbus Crew SC‘s 2018 season and there’s already buzz aplenty. It comes with the territory whenever you hand the defending MLS Cup champions a 2-0 loss like they did to Toronto FC on Saturday. Goals from Federico Higuain and Gyasi Zardes on opposite ends of halftime spearheaded an emphatic start to this year’s campaign.
As a result of that statement result in Week One, three Crew SC players made the MLS Team of the Week. One of them was left back Milton Valenzuela whose deft volley into the box with his left foot helped set up Higuain’s first-half strike. Though he generated much less hype than other high profile off-season signings among MLS teams, the young Argentinian is trending towards “household name” status if Saturday’s performance was any indication.
Gregg Berhalter: Milton Valenzuela Has “Potential to Grow” Within Columbus Crew SC System
Columbus sporting director and head coach Gregg Berhalter requires a lot out of his fullbacks. More than anything, they must provide width both in defense and attack. Harrison Afful has been a fixture on the right-hand side in this regard, having totaled four goals and six assists over the course of his three seasons with the club. In Valenzuela, Berhalter believes he has a similar piece on the opposite side of the field.
The stats bear witness to his quality as a two-way force out left. Against TFC, the 19-year-old won two tackles and tallied three interceptions in addition to his assist on Higuain’s goal. He also finished the game as one of four players to register a shot on target. All of it speaks to his commitment and determination up and down that left flank which is why he came on Berhalter’s radar in the first place.
“We reviewed a lot of left backs and ultimately we closed in on Milton for his tenacity, his concentration, and his potential to develop,” Berhalter told Last Word on Soccer. “We knew, having Hector (Jimenez) here, having a stable player in the league, we can afford to bring in a player that has room to grow and has potential to grow. And it doesn’t necessarily need to be the finished product right away.”
Jimenez has certainly grown comfortable as a utility man of sorts for the Black and Gold. He’s played everywhere from right back to winger to playmaker, oftentimes filling in as a result of injury to incumbent starters. But there’s no questioning his reliability. And he’s become a much more well-rounded defender. Jimenez finished fifth on the team in interceptions and seventh in tackles last season.
Still, Valenzuela’s performance in Toronto served as an indicator of what he’s capable of in 2018. His skill set is an embodiment of the Berhalter way at fullback and he certainly has what it takes to be a weapon in the Crew SC tactical ethos. Many of his teammates are already excited about what he brings to the table.
“It’s been pretty impressive, (with him) coming into the league and (it’s) his first year in the league,” center back Jonathan Mensah emphasized. “You can see right away from training what he can bring to the team. You know, he gave an assist in the first game of the season. And it’s not easy coming into a league like that and assisting on the first goal of the season. He brings something really great that a team needs.”