Every year, Major League Soccer showcases the league’s top young talent with its 22 Under 22 rankings. It’s an excellent gauge of which players are making an immediate impact early in their soccer careers.
Among those on the existing Columbus Crew SC roster who’ve been regulars on the list in recent years is Wil Trapp. The Gahanna, OH native and current team captain has emerged as a game-changer not just for his club, but also for his country. However, at 25 years of age, he’s obviously no longer eligible for the list.
But the Black and Gold boast a new young player in Milton Valenzuela who’s turned heads since his arrival in the off-season. Over the course of the 2018 campaign, the 20-year-old Argentinian has staked his claim as one of the best left backs in MLS. It’s for that reason that the league included Valenzuela in this year’s rankings with him coming in at 12th.
#22U22 // No. 12: Milton Valenzuela
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) October 3, 2018
Columbus Crew SC Fullback Milton Valenzuela Makes MLS 22 Under 22 Rankings
Since his arrival from Newell’s Old Boys in his native Argentina, Valenzuela has slotted into Gregg Berhalter’s system rather comfortably. It’s a style of play that requires both fullbacks to contribute to the attack while seamlessly tracking back to provide defensive cover. There are inherent challenges and it necessitates a multifaceted skill set that both Valenzuela and his counterpart on the right-hand side, Harrison Afful, boast in spades.
A Dangerous Wide Attacking Weapon
Among the important characteristics Valenzuela possesses is his ability to provide teammates with quality service. The numbers unequivocally bear this out. Among defenders, only the LA Galaxy‘s Ashley Cole and NYCFC‘s Anton Tinnerholm have more assists than his five on the year. And his 1.2 chances created per 90 are eighth best among MLS fullbacks.
Capable in Defense
But he’s also highly reliable as a pure defender as well. His awareness in 1v1 situations combined with his prodigious work rate is a significant reason Columbus’ 38 goals conceded is tied for fourth-best in MLS. Among fullbacks in the league with at least 1,500 minutes played, Valenzuela ranks fourth with 71 tackles. And his tackle success rate of 78.02 percent puts him fifth in the league among players within the aforementioned minutes threshold and who’ve registered a minimum of 50 successful tackles.
What the Experts Have to Say
All of it comes together to create the unique on-field persona Valenzuela exudes with his play. And it’s why the league is recognizing him as one of the top youngsters in MLS. They had this to say about him as part of his profile in the 22 Under 22 piece:
“Though Valenzuela displays a valued, disciplined approach in 1v1 defending, it’s his modern-attacking mentality that’s drawn plaudits form league observers in 2018. Valenzuela not only beats isolated defenders on the flanks and in the corners but also serves consistently lethal crosses to Columbus’ attacking corps.”
Crew SC is currently in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff discussion. As of this moment, they are in position to host a knockout round game which would be an immense treat to a fanbase that’s endured a lot over the past year. If they win, those fans have a chance to see this dynamic team compete for a championship perhaps multiple times depending on how far they advance. And their talented South American fullback, whose exploits are earning him praise across the league, is a big reason why.