“You tell me when and I can be there.”
Following a season-ending injury in 2019, there was never a question of whether Milton Valenzuela's mom would come to Ohio, but when.
"I knew that she wanted to be in Columbus the day after it happened," he recalled.
Valenzuela informed his mother of his knee injury, which he has since fully recovered from, once the tests confirmed the extent of it, but he said she had already gotten word about it before he touched base.
"I didn’t tell [my parents] right away because I went to the hospital and had some exams done at first," he said. "I waited for a few hours and called them in the afternoon like I do every day. That’s when I told them. Between tears, they had found out."
Throughout his youth in Argentina, his mother supported him in all his endeavors, though she stressed the academics over soccer, he admitted.
"She knew soccer was what I wanted the most, what I wanted to do in life, and what I was most passionate about," he said.
"She always wanted me to finish high school because soccer is not always a sure thing ... She wanted me to study, but despite all of that, she came to all my matches. I’m pretty sure she didn’t miss a single match."
Neither time nor a 5,500-mile flight has withered that commitment.
As an administrative professional in Argentina, Valenzeula's mother was a pillar of support both physically and emotionally during the first few months of his rehabilitation throughout 2019.
"Basically, she helped me in every sense because the first two weeks I couldn’t even move. I had the crutches and brace. I couldn’t walk at all – just with the crutches – but that was very uncomfortable. Mentally she helped me. I think, honestly, that's where she helped me the most. She was there for me, doing things for me, taking me to therapy. It was nice to spend time with her and get through that."
Prior to the start of the 2020 regular season, Valenzuela returned to full-contact training but had yet to play a full 90-minute scrimmage.
On February 15, 2020, he went out for warm-ups in a preseason scrimmage with a similar routine and mindset as most other matches; focused on the opponent, on the game plan, and a proper warm-up.
Ninety minutes later, the gravity of the situation settled in. A year ago, he was writhing in pain from an unlucky training collision. Thirteen months later, he's playing a full 90-minutes pain-free.
It wasn't a short respite from pain, but the first and most public sign of a full, healthy recovery.
"As soon as the game was over, I was overcome with joy because of everything I had been through in the past year," Valenzuela recalled.
Excited to see this fighter back on the field with the team. After been out the whole of last year, he played his first 90 minutes game last night and was excellent. #Crew96 #MiltonIsBack 🙏🏽👊🏽🙌🏽🖤💛 pic.twitter.com/ifQF5fkSWi— Jonathan Mensah (@Jomens25) February 16, 2020
"I think I really thought about how important that game was. Once I started and played the 90 minutes without any pain, it made me think about everything I had been through – all the help I got from my family, the club, the medics. I thought about all that, I broke a little bit. I shed a few tears if I am being honest. It was nice to have that."
He's only 21 years old, but he knows he has a hefty repayment for his mother, and though he'll have to wait another year to play for her on Mother's Day Weekend, he expressed his thankfulness for not only her role in his life, but for all his maternal family members.
"I want to send a message to my mom, my dad’s mother, my goddaughter’s mother, my aunts, my cousins who are now mothers. I want to wish them a happy Mother’s Day.
"For a son, a mother is the greatest thing there is. So, to my mom and all the other mothers in my family, I want to tell them I love them a lot, I respect them a lot, and I admire them all for the efforts they make every day to raise their children. I am very proud of them and I hope one day I can repay the pride and love that they give me."