For most Black & Gold fans, Valenzuela is just a name with some statistics attached — 13 appearances for Newell’s Old Boys and 10 games played with Argentina’s U-20 National Team — and maybe some YouTube highlights.
The question most want to know is what this 19-year-old Argentinian can bring to Crew SC?
“I see Milton as, for his age, a very, very focused defensive player, very good one v. one defending, very concentrated in that defensive aspect,” head coach Gregg Berhalter said Friday.
A defensive left back? That doesn’t seem to fit.
Since Berhalter took over in 2014, Columbus has been an aggressive, attack-minded team. This includes fullbacks that help create offense down the wings, or even sometimes tuck into the middle.
Harrison Afful, Waylon Francis and Jukka Raitala either or have been successful Crew SC outside backs. They each did well with the club because of their offensive mentality and their ability to serve crosses into the penalty area. But not every fullback has fit that description.
“When we were watching Hernan (Grana), we didn’t see any attacking. Everything was defensive,” Berhalter said. “Very good defender, very good one v. one defender and just because of how his team was playing, we didn’t see the attack. And when he got here, that was actually his best attribute was his attacking skills.”
Although he only played in seven games for the Black & Gold, Grana was the perfect combination of attacking prowess and defensive ability.
Berhalter believes Valenzuela can develop comparably.
“We think it’s going to be a similar transition with Milton,” he said. “Now he is younger, he does have less experience, but we think the potential is there to grow into a fine attacking player.
“He prefers that style, he just wasn’t utilized in that fashion (with Old Boys). But for his age, he has very good ball control, very good technical ability and very good defensive skills.”
Unlike the other fullbacks Crew SC have acquired, Valenzuela’s age makes him even more desirable. At 19 years old, he’s a player who will have time to develop in Columbus’ system.
It also makes him expensive.
According to reports out of Argentina, the Black & Gold paid around $1 million to acquire Valenzuela on loan with an option to buy. Crew SC also must pay his salary, which eclipses the league maximum, making the left back a Young Designate Player.
Because Columbus already has three DPs — Federico Higuain, Jonathan Mensah and Pedro Santos — the club used Targeted Allocation Money to buy down Jonathan’s contract.
“We actually were able to utilize all of our money better by making him a Young DP,” Berhalter explained. “There’s a $150,000 charge you have for having three DPs and if one of them is a Young DP, you don’t pay that charge. So we were able to use that projected money we were going to have to spend and put it into a player and get to actually use that money instead of paying it as a luxury type of tax.”
Crew SC spent the last five months keeping tabs on Valenzuela, watching him play and train and speaking with the player extensively. Berhalter and his staff tabbed Valenzuela as the replacement they wanted for Francis and Raitala, who are now with the Seattle Sounders and Montreal Impact respectively.
While it took some time for a deal to get done, the Black & Gold got the player they desired and Berhalter is excited to work with Valenzuela, believing he will be a perfect fit in Columbus.
“From everything we see, and in talking to him, he’s a very coachable player,” he said. “He’s a guy that’s willing to learn, that wants to learn. He’s a guy that wants to compete and I think the thing that stands out is his character.
“He’s been playing against some tough players and he’s been holding his own. Now we’re going to add an offensive element to his game as well and I think you’re going to see him blossom into a nice, well-rounded player.”