The back line is an area of need for Columbus Crew SC this offseason after the Black & Gold did not pick up the option on left back Corey Ashe, the departure of center-back Michael Parkhurst and the news that his fellow central defender Gaston Sauro is dealing with severe knee injuries.
Crew SC announced on Friday that the club had begun to fill in those holes with the signing of Finnish outside back Jukka Raitala.
“Jukka joins Columbus Crew SC as a talented defender with significant experience across European topflight clubs and with the Finland National Team,” sporting director and head coach Gregg Berhalter said in the press release. “We are pleased to welcome Jukka to Columbus and look forward to integrating him into our system for the 2017 campaign.”
The 28 year old last played for Sogndal IL in the Norwegian top league. Jukka brings 10 years of European club experience (263 total European matches played) as well as 36 appearances with the Finland National Team.
He has played in Germany’s Bundesliga, Spain’s La Liga, the Eredivisie in Netherlands, as well as topflight time in Norway’s Eliteserien, the Superliga in Denmark and Finland’s Veiikkausliga. Internationally, Raitala has earned 36 senior National Team caps for Finland.
Per the Crew SC press release:
During the 2016 season, he played for Sogndal IL in the Norwegian First Division, where he made 28 appearances, all starts, scoring one goal and providing five assists. Prior to joining Sogndal IL, Raitala made appearances for seven other clubs across Europe, including HJK Helsinki, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, SC Paderborn 07, Osasuna, SC Heerenveen, FC Vestsjælland, and Aalborg BK. He began his career in Finland with Klubi-04 Helsinki – HJK Helsinki’s reserve team – at the age of 18 before joining the senior squad. During his time with HJK Helsinki, Raitela made 79 appearances en route to winning the Finnish Premier Division (2009), and the Finnish Cup twice (2008, 2009). He also made two appearances in the Second Round of the 2008-2009 Europa League Qualifiers.
Following the 2009 season, Raitala joined Bundesliga side TSG 1899 Hoffenheim on a season-long loan deal. After making 15 starts for the second team, he made his debut for the senior squad on April 14, 2010, against Werder Bremen. On August 31, 2010, he was loaned to SC Paderborn 07 of the Second Division in Germany, where he went on to make 29 starting appearances. Ahead of the 2011-2012 season, Raitala was loaned to Spanish topflight side Osasuna, making his debut as a leftback against Atletico Madrid on August 28, 2011. On February 11, 2012, he started in a 3-2 win against FC Barcelona. In all, he would make 20 appearances for Osasuna, including three appearances in the 2011-2012 Copa del Rey, where his team reached the Round of 16.
Raitala then signed with SC Heerenveen of the Dutch First Division in 2012, where he would go on to make 36 appearances. His time at SC Heerenveen included qualifying for the 2012-2013 Europa League, where he made an appearance against Molde FK. His time in the Eredivisie was followed by a move to the Danish First Division, where he became a regular starter for FC Vestsjælland before joining Aalborg BK.
Raitala’s senior National Team debut came on February 4, 2009 in a friendly match for Finland against Japan. In June of 2011, he played in his first UEFA European Championship qualification match against San Marino. Prior to his senior experience, Raitala had also been part of the Finland youth system, representing his country at the U-17, U-19, and U-21 levels. At the U-21 level, he was a member of the Finnish team that qualified for the 2009 UEFA European Under-21 Football Championship. In 2009, he was named the Finland U-21 Player of the Year
Raitala will be added to the Black & Gold roster following receipt of his International Transfer Certificate and P-1 Visa and will occupy an international roster spot.
The Black & Gold begin preseason on Jan. 23 in Columbus for physicals and testing. The team then heads to Sao Paulo, Brazil until Feb. 9. Crew SC will train in Columbus for a few days before leaving for the Carolina Challenge Cup.