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Columbus Crew SC looking for Jukka Raitala replacement

The Black & Gold need someone to step up at left back this week.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at D.C. United Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Through three games in 2017, Columbus Crew SC have used one player at left back: offseason signing Jukka Raitala.

The new addition has played all 270 minutes at the position and registered his first Major League Soccer assist in the 3-1 loss to the Houston Dynamo.

The Black & Gold will have to make other plans this week as the Finnish wingback was called up for national team duty as part of World Cup Qualifying.

Initial thoughts for a replacement left back go to Waylon Francis. The Costa Rican is in his fourth season with Crew SC and has played 71 games at on the left side of the Columbus defense.

The issue is Francis is yet to make an appearance for the Black & Gold this season after having shoulder surgery due to an injury suffered in 2016.

Francis has taken part in training since the start of the year and even competed in a scrimmage against Akron, but head coach Gregg Berhalter said he has been held out of MLS play to avoid that potential “level of contact” on the shoulder while it heals.

The good news for Crew SC is Francis is cleared to play. It’s now getting him back up to speed in order to be able to meet the demands of a left back in Berhalter’s system.

“We’ll have to see where he is with his fitness,” the head coach said on Monday. “I would expect that he’d be in contention. We’ll just have to see where he is.”

If Francis cannot go, the other two options according to Berhalter are Hector Jimenez and Connor Maloney.

Jimenez, a seven-year MLS veteran, is no stranger to filling in when needed. Since coming to Columbus in 2014, he has played the majority of the positions on the field and is comfortable on either the left or right side.

Maloney is a rookie out of Penn State who made his Crew SC debut two weeks ago against the Dynamo. Maloney checked in for Harrison Afful at halftime and played well going forward, but was caught in no-man’s-land defensively on the third Houston goal.

As quickly as Raitala has adapted to his new team, and how steady he’s been on the left side, the Black & Gold will be looking for a viable replacement this week in preparation for the Portland Timbers trip to Columbus on Saturday night.