After almost two months of speculation, it’s finally official. Former Columbus Crew fullback Milton Valenzuela is not returning to the Black & Gold. On Sunday, FC Lugano of Switzerland’s Swiss Super League announced the signing of Valenzuela through 2025.
Valenzuela leaves the Crew after almost four years in Columbus. On March 2, 2018, the first day of the 2018 Major League Soccer regular season, Valenzuela debuted with a 90-minute performance against Toronto FC, resulting in a 2-0 victory. On March 24, he scored his first MLS goal in a 3-1 win against D.C. United.
While initially joining Columbus on a loan from Newell’s Old Boys, an impressive first season that featured 32 starts in 33 appearances, seven assists and a goal turned into a permanent contract. Unfortunately, soon after joining the Black & Gold full time, a devastating injury hit Valenzuela.
Prior to the 2019 season, Valenzuela tore his ACL during preseason training, causing him to miss the entirety of his first season with newly hired head coach Caleb Porter. Fortunately, he came back in his old form in 2020.
During the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, Valenzuela started 21 of his 25 appearances, and registered three assists. He was also crucial to the Crew’s postseason run, playing in every minute of Columbus’ four matches, culminating in the Black & Gold lifting the 2020 MLS Cup.
Valenzuela didn’t suffer another year-long injury, but his 2021 campaign featured smaller knocks that only allowed the Argentinian to start 12 matches. In 14 total appearances, Valenzuela failed to register a single assist or goal in an offensive-light season for the Black & Gold. In the 2021 Campeones Cup Final against Cruz Azul, Porter experimented with a three center back defensive line, which meant Valenzuela only played 32 minutes as a substitute in the 2-0 win.
Even with his least productive season coming in 2021, Columbus had Valenzuela on a list of players they wanted to return to the club this offseason. While the Crew re-signing other targets in goalkeeper Eloy Room and winger Pedro Santos, Valenzuela longed for a different environment and had been linked to clubs in South America before Sunday’s news.
His departure from the Crew leaves a hole in fullback that Columbus is currently employing Santos to fill. While the preseason isn’t over, and a new left back signing could be imminent, Valenzuela’s exit means that the Crew will have a different look going forward.
Since 2018, supporters of the Black & Gold expected fullbacks Valenzuela and Harrison Afful down the sidelines on matchday starting 11s. With Afful leaving for expansion Charlotte FC, the 2021 midseason addition of Steven Moreira and now Valenzuela’s exit, it’s time for a new era.
Columbus starts the MLS Regular Season on Saturday, Feb 26. The Black & Gold welcome Vancouver Whitecaps FC to Lower.com Field in their first of 34 regular season matches.
Currently, the Crew is in preseason, having just finished the first 10 days of preparation in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. The senior roster restarts preseason training on Tuesday, Feb. 1 in Columbus, Ohio.