The Columbus Crew has dealt with a handful of injuries throughout the first portion of the Major League Soccer season. Nearly every Black & Gold player has missed a game due to injury with the team rarely having a squad that is fully fit.
Following a three-week international break, the thought was the team would be healthier, but that turned out to not be the case as more players battled injuries over the last couple of matches. But heading into the second portion of the season on Saturday, the Crew was as healthy as it had been in some time.
In the Crew’s 2-2 draw with the New England Revolution, the first match at Lower.com Field, left back Milton Valenzuela left the game before halftime with a hamstring injury. It’s the second time this season the Argentine has gotten injured and Columbus fans hope it’s not very serious.
“I don’t know. No update,” said head coach Caleb Porter after Saturday’s draw. “Not good when you come out of the game. He’s had this hamstring reoccurrence. This will be the third one and he didn’t make it through the half.”
Valenzuela started the Lower.com Field opener at left back for the Crew, his second straight start for the Black & Gold. He was forced to play a more advanced role than usual after the Black & Gold went down 2-0 in the first half. After the half hour mark, Valenzuela looked to be hobbled on his right leg as he pushed through the next 10 minutes. At the 41st minute, the Argentine went down on the far side of the pitch and was forced to be subbed off.
In his three seasons with the Crew, Valenzuela has dealt with a handful of injuries. He missed the entire 2019 season with an ACL tear and already this season missed two months with a right thigh injury after he scored a goal in the Crew’s 2-2 draw against CF Monterrey in the CONCACAF Champions League. Now, the team waits to see if its first choice left back will be out once again for an extended period of time.
Luckily, Porter has a few capable options to come in at left back should Valenzuela once again miss time. Veteran Waylon Francis has seen a lot of game action as the primary replacement and has impressed with his defensive abilities. The one caveat to Francis’ game is his offensive transition isn’t quite as good as Valenzuela’s. That’s where Pedro Santos comes in.
When both Valenzuela and Francis were hurt in late May and mid-June, Santos stepped in to play left back in three consecutive matches and impressed on two occasions. Santos played the position in his teenage years before moving on the wing but he quickly stepped up and was able to advance the attack from the left and succeed with his defensive responsibilities.
The best case scenario for the Crew is Valenzuela’s injury isn’t as bad as it initially seemed and the Argentine will be ready to log more MLS minutes in July. The Black & Gold head to FC Cincinnati on Friday for the first Hell is Real derby game at the new TQL Stadium.