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Year of development: Crew fourth-round pick plans to join team in 2020

The fourth-round draft pick spoke exclusively with Massive Report about his future plans with the club.

Valparaiso University

Columbus Crew SC made what seemed to be a bold move during the second day of the 2019 Major League Soccer SuperDraft on Monday, as the Black & Gold used one of their fourth-round picks (90th overall) to select Valparaiso University’s midfielder Rafael Mentzingen, a player who had already signed a contract with USL League One side Lansing Ignite for the 2019 season.

However, as it turns out, it was all part of a plan.

In an exclusive interview with Massive Report, the 22-year-old Mentzingen explained that his decision to sign with the Ignite for the 2019 season was agreed upon with the Crew, which had its eyes set on the Brazilian prospect for a while after he trained with the team for the first time last May and returned to Columbus for a few more sessions in December.

“I spoke with Crew assistant coaches and my agent and we decided that the best path for me would be to spend the 2019 season in USL,” he said. “Even though I had trained with the Crew and the club had showed interest, we all agreed that I needed more experience at the professional level and that’s what I’m hoping to get with the Ignite. But to be selected by such a historic franchise as the Crew meant the world for me.”

According to Mentzingen, the plan is that he continues his development with the Michigan franchise during 2019 and joins the Crew when the USL season is over to potentially be part of the roster for 2020.

The Black & Gold have been in touch with the Brazilian for the better part of the last few months and will monitor his progress closely.

“I’ve spoken with Pat (Onstad, interim general manager) and Julio (Velasquez, team coordinator) numerous times and we’re always in touch,” Mentzingen added. “I’ve also talked to (midfielder) Artur already and he’s been very helpful. I’m excited, but also very aware that I need to focus on my USL season to get to Columbus in a better position to fight for a roster spot when the opportunity comes.”

Playing in MLS would be the final step of the ladder the Brazilian has been climbing since he moved to the United States in 2015 to play for Bryan College. The midfielder, who spent the 2017 and 2018 seasons with Valparaiso, where he scored 11 goals and provided three assists in 34 games, has already played for National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) franchises Lansing United in 2017 and Detroit City FC in 2018.

“One step at a time, that’s how I approach it,” he explained. “I’ve moved to the United States three and half years ago and my dream was to be drafted by a MLS team. I’m close, but next season in USL will be very important.”

His college coach in Valparaiso, Mike Avery, also seems to be on board with the plan.

“I have no doubt that Rafa will use the experience in Lansing under their coaching staff to grow as a professional player, and Columbus will soon reap the rewards in this pick,” Avery said in a statement. “Rafa has MLS potential. He’s electric on the field, a class person off the field and will be a fan favorite in both Lansing and Columbus before long.”

And what can the Brazilian midfielder, a Rio de Janeiro native, add to the Crew? Well, we’ll let him explain.

“I like to play on the flanks and to use my speed and my dribbling ability to create chances,” he described himself. “One of my goals in 2019 is to keep improving and to work on my weaknesses so I can be a better-rounded player in 2020.”

If you search Mentzingen’s name on Google, you will probably find an astonishing goal he scored for Valparaiso in 2017, when he dribbled past four Drake defenders before placing the ball in the back of the net with his left foot.

The play made headlines at the time and became his calling card since.

“It was a very nice goal and it reflects my playing style pretty well, but I’m a lot more than that,” he added. “I’ve been scoring more goals and providing more assists to my teammates since that time and that was what helped my team and myself to get here.”