Overshadowed by the report of a new Designated Player, Columbus Crew SC announced last week that they completed the signing of veteran Finnish wingback Jukka Raitala. As he is a name unfamiliar to many in these parts of world football, today’s read will help fill in the gaps, for you to get to know the Black & Gold’s newest signing.
Jukka Raitala — Background
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. De is a player that is strong and capable on defense but enjoys to get high up the pitch on the attack.
Throughout his career the 28 year old has played with CA Osasuna in La Liga, in Germany with TSG Hoffenheim and SC Paderborn and in the Eredivisie with SC Heerenveen. He has notched 36 appearances with the senior Finnish national team and even has some Europa League experience to his name.
During his career he has been seen as a consistent and strong defender, but where he truly excelled was this past season with Sogndal IL. With the Norwegian side, he was a mainstay at the left back position and given freedom to venture into the attacking third. In attack, he serves a wicked cross and has a laser of a shot. If he is flanked by Harrison Afful on the opposite wing, it will provide the Crew SC attack with two very lethal wing backs.
Another standout trait is his strength in defense. He is a very determined and hard-tackling player. While not being shy to yellow cards, he has never seen a red card in his career -- a stat which shows discipline despite a competitive edge.
Raitala also has the potential to take over set pieces for the team.
During 2016, he was the go-to corner taker for Sogndal IL and designated for set pieces across the park. His crossing is one of the best aspects of his game, often serving high-lofted and well placed balls. For as much as Columbus struggled with set pieces, his addition will be well received.
While he is predominantly a left-sided wing back, his right foot is nearly equally as good as his left. He is one of those players (Hamsik the first to mind), where you watch them several times and still have no idea which foot is the stronger. Jukka fits the bill. His free kicks are a prime example: from the right side, he takes them left-footed; from the left side, he takes them with his right, which is uncommon in the game. His two-footed nature gives the team further support should Afful miss time.
Raitala also has limited experience as a central defender. Sitting at 5-foot-9, he isn’t the tallest player but is fairly broad for his lean frame and could serve as a reserve option in central defense in emergency situations.
Integration into the system
For this coming season, I fully expect him to become a mainstay at the left wing back position, with potential to become a top left back in the league. His archetype fits that of head coach Gregg Berhalter’s wing back: hard-working, determined, quick, and a capable crosser. Former Crew SC left backs provided capable coverage and spurts of brilliance but maybe they didn’t fully fit what was required. Columbus now has a true wingback who is as much a midfielder as he is a defender and one that can fill the gap on the left side of the pitch which is often vacated by Justin Meram.
Berhalter is bringing is guys early this offseason so they can ideally be ready to go by the season opener. It’s hard telling how long it will take to adapt Raitala into the starting XI, but bar any unknown fitness issues I expect him to start against the Chicago Fire on March 4th.