In the span of 24 hours, Columbus Crew SC lost up and coming outside back, Milton Valenzuela and gained former fan favorite, Waylon Francis. With Valenzuela and Harrison Afful perceived to be locked in at the starting outside back positions, it came as a bit of a surprise to Crew fans when Francis was re-acquired from the Seattle Sounders. Then the news trickled out that the Young Designated Player, Valenzuela, suffered a “significant injury” in training. The move for Francis quickly made sense.
If history is any indication, Porter was planning on using the young Argentine heavily. Given his pace, solid crossing ability, and 90-minute energy, it was likely that Porter was going to demand the most out of Valenzuela. Porter showed this insistence on key contributions from his outside backs as head coach of the Portland Timbers. Both Jorge Villafana and Alves Powell were tasked with a high workload along the sidelines in Portland.
The pacey Valenzuela is the exact type of player Porter sought out in Villafana when he was acquired in 2014. While Villafana had his up and down moments, he blossomed into a steady and accountable left back for the Timbers. His play didn’t go unnoticed, as it eventually earned him call-ups with the United States Men’s National Team.
Valenzuela has a higher projected ceiling than Villafana ever did, even at the ripe young age of 20 year old. Hopefully this 9-12 month recovery from ACL surgery won’t significantly derail his upward trajectory. With a successful recuperation, 2020 will be a bounce back and restoration season.
With the re-acquisition of Waylon Francis, the Crew acquired a comfortable and extremely serviceable outside back. However, one of the reasons Francis found his way to Seattle for minimal in return ($50,000 in General Allocation Money) and then re-acquired for the exact same figure, was due to being oft-injured and having lapses in play. His minutes and games played declined each season from 2015 to 2018. Francis earned a career-high 2,410 minutes in 2015, down to 1,233 minutes in 2016 and then a mere 852 minutes in 2017, his last year with the Crew. In 2018 with Seattle, he competed in a paltry 582 minutes over 11 games. Are the Crew expecting Francis to handle the bulk of the minutes at this spot? Will they continue to look for reinforcements?
Crew president Tim Bezbatchenko made lemonade out of lemons by picking up Francis. One day after losing one of the clubs most intriguing young talents, he was able to obtain a very serviceable and comfortable replacement. And while Porter does rely on his outside backs to push into the attack, the reliance for outside backs to forge into the offensive third isn’t as paramount to the team’s success as it was with former head coach Gregg Berhalter. Perhaps less wear and tear will allow Francis to stay healthy and contribute more productive minutes? Only time will tell, but this is a low-risk/high-reward move for the club during a less than ideal situation.