As part of a series leading up to the MLS is Back Tournament, ColumbusCrewSC.com examines key numbers and trends surrounding the players. In this edition, we take a closer look at leftback Milton Valenzuela.
Building on debut year
A do-it-all defender with touch, tenacity, and speed, Milton Valenzuela's 2018 numbers spoke for themselves.
That season, the Argentine was quick to showcase his offensive capabilities, scoring his first professional goal just four games into the season and finishing with six assists on the year, two of which were game-winning providers.
On top of that, he provided a League-high 27 successful crosses from open play – the most of any MLS defender.
At 20 years old, he finished his debut season with the third-most tackles won (57) in Major League Soccer as part of 87 tackles total (the fourth-most League-wide) in 30 appearances.
In terms of his fit in the team, there was no doubt Valenzuela's skillset would continue to be a focal point of the Crew's high-intensity profile under Caleb Porter that defends from the front and attacks from the back.
Fast-forward to 2020
After overcoming a season-ending knee injury in early 2019, the Argentine had an emotional return to form with a full-90-minute performance in the final stages of this year's preseason, and doubled down with a performance in the 2020 home-opener that reminded Head Coach Caleb Porter just how crucial Valenzuela is to the Crew's style.
"He’s an unbelievable player," Porter said after the Crew's 1-0 Opening Match victory over NYCFC back on March 1. "I mean, I didn’t get to coach him last year, I watched him from afar prior to that. Massive impact for us, both sides of the ball. He’s even better than I thought he was. This guy, he’s a top, top-class leftback."
That game, Valenzuela led the team in touches (106), possession gained (12), and total passes in the opponent's half (49).
The graphics below showcase his passing positions up and down the left touchline vs. NYCFC, as well as his team-high 12 possessions gained.
An integral piece of the connection between the backline, the central midfield, and the attacking core, he was also the only Crew player with double-digit figures in possessions-gained to post at least two instances in each of the following categories: tackles, clearances, and interceptions.
Since recovering from his 2019 knee injury, Valenzuela opened up about people in his personal and professional life that have helped him get to this point, and how the treatment he received gave him a refreshed perspective on the club.
- READ: Recovery from knee injury 'made me realize the type of people we have here at the Club'
- READ: The role Milton Valenzuela's mother played in his recovery from 2019 season-ending knee surgery
After a setback at Seattle Sounders FC on March 7, where Valenzuela suffered a torn meniscus, he is back with the First Team as Columbus prepares for its first match on July 11.