Just over a year ago, Columbus Crew SC’s Milton Valenzuela went down in the preseason with a knee injury. The Crew quickly learned the team’s starting left back was lost for the year before it even started with a torn ACL. On Saturday night in the 1-1 draw against the Seattle Sounders on the turf of CenturyLink Field, Valenzuela again went down, holding the same knee that required reconstructive surgery prior to last season.
After watching the young Argentinean dazzle Major League Soccer both as a defender and going forward two years ago and then losing him for all of last season, Black & Gold fans everywhere held their breath as Valenzeula eventually got up and played the remainder of the first half but was substituted at halftime.
Crew fans can now exhale.
“Milton has a torn meniscus,” head coach Caleb Porter updated on Tuesday. “So he’s out a couple of weeks.”
While it was certainly a positive sign to see Valenzuela get back up and re-enter the match against the Sounders, this was no guarantee that the left back had not seriously injured the knee once again. Just last year, Federico Higuain continued to play on a torn ACL in a 3-2 loss to the Colorado Rapids before exiting nearly 40 minutes later. Higuain did not play again for Columbus that season and is now a member of D.C. United. A similar situation occurred with Frankie Hejduk, who suffered the same injury but played the remainder of the half before missing the rest of the year.
In an ideal world, Valenzuela does not suffer any injury. But this is one of the best-case scenarios given the situation and one that will not see the Argentinean out of the Black & Gold lineup for long. Valenzuela had a knee scope on Tuesday and is expected to miss two weeks of action.
“He’ll definitely miss the next game (against Real Salt Lake on Saturday),” Porter continued. “We’ll see on Nashville (Saturday, March 21). That’s probably unlikely, and then we have a bye week. So obviously, if there’s ever a good time, it comes at a good time where at least there’s a break and we would expect to have him after the break 100 percent.”
On Saturday, Porter brought reserve right back Chris Cadden in for Valenzuela. While Cadden performed well enough for the final 45 minutes of the draw, he is not a naturally left-sided player. The Crew has Waylon Francis, who was re-acquired prior to the 2019 season when Valenzuela was lost for the year, but the Costa Rican international is returning from a minor knee injury of his own suffered in the preseason. Francis returned to full training late last week and could be an option this weekend.
The Black & Gold also have Swiss Army Knife Hector Jimenez who has played both right and left fullback, as well as across the midfield. If Francis is not deemed fit enough to play substantial minutes against Salt Lake, Jimenez could step into the role he played multiple times last year.
After a season that saw Columbus deal with a rash of injuries, including losing both Valenzuela and Higuain for the year, the Crew hoped that 2020 would be better. Valenzuela’s injury isn’t desirable by any stretch but the fact that it’s not so severe is a positive sign for the Black & Gold.