Lucas Zelarayan might have stolen the show in Columbus Crew’s 3-0 victory against the Seattle Sounders in Saturday’s MLS Cup Final, but another Argentinean from the Black & Gold roster also left the field at MAPFRE Stadium with a huge smile on his face. It was left back Milton Valenzuela, who capped off his comeback season after missing the Crew’s entire 2019 campaign due to a torn ACL in his right knee with arguably his best performance of 2020, one that helped Columbus lift the MLS Cup trophy for the second time in club history.
The 22-year-old Valenzuela appeared in 23 matches for the Crew in 2020, missing only four games during the season, and was a nominee for Major League Soccer’s Comeback Player of the Year award. Against the dangerous Sounders, who were the defending MLS Cup champions, the Argentinean was a rock on the left side of Columbus’ defense, completely shutting down his portion of the field with three tackles and two clearances, but also helped on offense with a pair of key passes.
“It’s an awesome feeling,” he said in his post-match interview. “We were confident and we came here to win the match. We were playing at home, we had a great season and we’d give all we had from the first minute until the last one. I believe we played today the same way we did the entire season.
“We’ve been working for this the entire year and had to face a lot of adversities. We always stuck together, fought and gave all we had. It’s really special to win this title with this group of players that always leave everything on the field. We deserved it.”
Aside from his contributions in matches during the entire season, Valenzuela, who’s been with the Crew since the 2018 season, also played an important off-the-field role. As the only Argentinean on the roster, he helped new signing Designated Player Lucas Zelarayan adjust to the city and the league. This obviously was important for the MLS Newcomer of the Year to settle in and live up to his record-signing expectations.
Valenzuela might even have instilled an extra dose of confidence in his fellow countryman ahead of his outstanding performance in the match that secured the Crew the title.
“I told him he’d score twice in the final and he did,” Valenzuela revealed, laughing. “He makes matches a lot easier for us. He played a great match and had a fantastic season. It’s amazing for him to take the title in his first season with the club and I’m very happy for him too.”
After securing MLS Cup in his third season with the Crew, Valenzuela couldn’t help but look back to his trajectory with the club and rejoice.
He was one of the players signed ahead of the 2018 season, a year many expected would be the Crew’s lame-duck season in Columbus before a potential move to Austin, Texas. History obviously turned out differently, as we all know, and after dealing with uncertainties about the future of his career due to different factors in each of the last two years, Valenzuela can now proudly says he plays for the reigning MLS champions in Columbus and the fans that kept the team in town.
“When I joined the club, there was this discussion about relocation,” he recalled. “It was really impressive to see how the city moved to stop it and keep the team here. It’s my pleasure to make the people from Columbus happy. It was also special to win the last final at MAPFRE Stadium and we’re excited to enter the new stadium next year.”