After some years of struggles at the left back spot, Columbus Crew SC appeared to find an answer in 2018 as the team brought in Argentinean Milton Valenzuela in the offseason and he was a regular at the position for the entirety of the year.
The 20-year-old defender, however, was on a loan contract with the Black & Gold and that leads us to Massive Report’s third major offseason question: Will he come back in 2019?
The simple answer seems to be yes. During interviews on Crew SC’s media availability day after the team was eliminated from the MLS Cup Playoffs, head coach and sporting director Gregg Berhalter indicated the club has a buying option on his contract with Newell’s Old Boys and it is willing to use it to acquire Valenzuela permanently.
Apparently, Valenzuela was brought to Columbus in a deal similar to the one in which the Crew signer Artur from Brazilian side São Paulo FC in 2018. The first year of the agreement was a loan contract with an established fee if the Black & Gold wanted to make the move permanent. That the fee is lower than the one the Crew had to spend to keep the Brazilian and the conditions are also less complicated, meaning it should be done in the near future and whoever is making the calls on player acquisitions for this team won’t have to take a trip to Argentina to get a deal done.
The Crew would, indeed, make a smart decision if they chose to keep Valenzuela. The Argentinean displayed surprising consistency for a player so young and gave Columbus some stability at the left back spot after some years of ups and downs with the likes of Waylon Francis, Chris Klute, Corey Ashe and, to a minor extent, Jukka Raitala.
In just eight months in Columbus, Valenzuela proved to be a solid two-way player, capable of helping the team on both sides of the ball. The Argentinean, who captained his country’s Under-20 National Team, still has lots of room for improvement and is one of the most promising young players in the league.
In his first season with the Crew, Valenzuela played 33 games, the fourth-most on the team, and provided some offensive spark, scoring one goal and recording seven assists, the third-highest number on the roster.
It was on the defensive end, however, that Valenzuela turned some heads. The young Argentinean proved to be one of the toughest defender to beat in one-on-one situations and several of his tackles could make highlight videos. Not unsurprisingly, he led the team in tackles, averaging 2.8 per game.
In Valenzuela, the Crew has a player with huge ceiling for development and potentially a massive market to be sold in the future. His tag price, reportedly below the $1 million mark, is also very attractive.
He also seemed well-integrated into the city, the club and his teammates. The Crew has a couple of Argentineans on the roster in Federico Higuain and Gastón Sauro, who certainly softened the transition for Valenzuela and a handful of Spanish-speaking players at his same age-range, such as Cristian Martinez and Eduardo Sosa, who should share the same interests of him and make him feel at home.
If Columbus has the means to make this deal happen, the club should definitely pull the trigger with Valenzuela. Fortunately, it seems to be the case and we might have an answer to this question soon.