Another Columbus Crew player will be leaving the team on international duty this March. Columbus left back Milton Valenzuela has been selected to the Argentina Under-23 team for two friendlies at the end of this month against Japan. He is the second Black & Gold to be called up for international duty with Luis Diaz heading to Mexico to join the U-23 Costa Rica team for CONCACAF Olympic qualifiers.
While Valenzuela has yet to make a cap for the Argentina Men’s National Team, he has become a regular in the youth set up since 2017. The 22-year-old defender from Rosario made 10 appearances for the Under-20 team and could make his debut for the Under-23 squad during this trip. Argentina is traveling to Japan for the 2021 Saison Card Cup for two friendlies against the host country. The two will play in Tokyo on March 26 and then in Kitakyushu on March 29.
Valenzuela is getting ready for his third season with the Black & Gold. After starting 29 games in the 2018 season, he suffered an ACL injury that sidelined him in 2019 only to return in 2020 with 17 starts and an MLS Cup winners medal around his neck. His medal is also accompanied by a tattoo of the trophy, as a promise made with himself and his fellow South American teammates Lucas Zelarayan of Argentina and Artur of Brazil if they won the 2020 MLS Cup Final.
Only two Argentine MLS players will be heading to Japan for these friendly fixtures in Valenzuela and New York City FC striker Valentin Castellanos. Other notable names on the squad include Lisandro Martinez of Ajax, Santiago Ascacibar of Hertha Berlin and Matias Vargas of Espanyol. All the players will be getting a first look and feel of the host country for the upcoming Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Argentina has already qualified for the 16-team tournament that will take place from July 21-Aug. 7.
Argentina has a rich history of success at the Olympics. In its previous four appearances in the competition, the country has made the final on three occasions and walked away with gold medals twice. In Atlanta 1996, future Argentinian stars like Javier Zanetti and Hernan Crespo earned a silver medal after a last-second goal won gold for Nigeria, 3-2. Athens 2004 resulted in gold for La Albiceleste with Carlos Tevez leading the tournament with eight goals.
The team’s last gold medal came in 2008 in Beijing after defeating Nigeria 1-0 in the final. That side featured Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria, Javier Mascherano and Juan Roman Riquelme just to name a few superstars of the sport.
For Valenzuela and the rest of this squad will hope to add their names next to this list of greats by impressing in the friendlies and earning a selection to the Olympic team. Who knows, fans could see two maybe three Crew players walking in the parade of nations in the midst of the MLS season.
The remaining Black & Gold players will continue to train in Chula Vista, California for the rest of the week before returning home to Ohio on March 14. Columbus plays its first competitive game of 2021 in Managua, Nicaragua against Real Esteli in the CONCACAF Champions League. The Crew opens the MLS season at home on April 18 against the Philadelphia Union.