GA Tour: Impact's Valentin relishing Dutch adventure
AMSTERDAM — In case you were wondering, fresh Montreal Impact recruit Zarek Valentin is loving every single minute of his offseason. It's all over his face.
Fresh off a rookie MLS season full of heady play at the back for Chivas USA and participation at the initial US Olympic camp, the 20-year-old has gone global like a pro with the Generation adidas squad here in Amsterdam.
Standing in the middle of various lunching club folk at the De Toekomst cantina, as Ajax manager Frank de Boer walks past and star playmaker Christian Eriksen has a nearby laugh with visiting Denmark youth officials, Valentin doesn't even seem to notice.
He's too interested in talking about what he learned from the 60-minute friendly just played against Ajax's second team.
"You can take away a lot, starting with their knowledge of the game," Valentin told MLSsoccer.com after Thursday's 4-2 defeat. "Their movement off the ball is very fluid. If one goes, the other one fills in. That was a little tough to deal with."
He pauses thoughtfully for a second before adding, "But I see how we can do better."
Having also taken in the UEFA Champions League contest against Real Madrid on Wednesday, Valentin suddenly seems flush with Ajax info. He notes how the reserves play just like the first team, expertly tying things he witnessed at Amsterdam Arena the night before to moments seen up close in Thursday's friendly loss.
"Even their goalie was comfortable on the ball under pressure and in tight spaces," he said, before shifting to his area of the field. "The [wingers] find the ball in spots. They make defenders think and it's those split-second decisions that either make the play or don't."
Valentin has also been impressed by everyone surrounding the organization, from the coaches to the supporters in the stands.
"You can definitely tell they have a great system here and they do it the right way," he said. "Our country is trying to do that. It's a great environment, everyone is so passionate. Even the fans are so knowledgeable. [Amsterdam] is a great soccer city."
Valentin admits he felt a quick kinship with the notoriously demanding Ajax faithful. He hopes to find that kind of team fervor in his new MLS home, a city known for ice hockey love.
"It's good to have these expectations, that way you don't get complacent as a player," he said. "It's great to see fans getting that way in our country, getting knowledgeable. I think the fans are like that in Montreal, so I'm excited."
His fascination with all things Amsterdam is no mere hobby, of course. As an Olympic team contender, Valentin has been taking a crash course in the newly installed Ajax-style 4-3-3 system since last month's camp in Germany.
Once he's done picking up the Dutch soccer experience — including a Generation adidas team trip to nearby Alkmaar on Saturday to watch Jozy Altidore's AZ take on De Graafschap — Valentin will bring it all with him to Montreal. He says he'll be more than ready to help the Impact defeat tour teammate Omar Salgado and the Vancouver Whitecaps to kick off the 2012 season.
"It's a little bit surprising, you don't plan for those kinds of things," Valentin said with a smile. "But you've just got to roll with the punches and try to make the best of the opportunity. After being up to the city and seeing everyone, I'm beyond excited."
WATCH: Valentin's Generation adidas video blog