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Impact's Valentin stays upbeat despite losing starting role

Zarek Valentin

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MONTREAL – Zarek Valentin's only crime was getting injured, really. And while he was out, three Serie A veterans all took places in the Montreal Impact's backline at the same time.

It would be perfectly normal for the 21-year-old defender let pessimism get the better of him. Yet Valentin is keeping his spirits up.

He had earned a starting role at right back for the Impact, and looked a shoo-in to man the position until the end of the season. But he sustained an ankle sprain in a 3-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo on July 21, the 10th straight game he had played a part in.

Unfortunately for Valentin, the first game he skipped coincided with the beginning of the Impact’s five-game win streak, for which form and fitness allowed Marsch to field Alessandro Nesta, Nelson Rivas and Matteo Ferrari all at once.

“Like I’ve talked to Jesse about, the team was doing well and they’re in a good spot, so obviously you put yourself [behind] the team,” Valentin conceded. “We’re winning, so I’m not going to expect anything else. If we’re winning and I’m not in the lineup, then keep it that way.”

Such an attitude probably sounds like music to the ears of a team-oriented coach like Jesse Marsch. The way Valentin has been handling himself in those difficult moments satisfies the Montreal boss, who believes the promising sophomore’s experiences in college and with the youth national teams offer a strong base upon which to build.

“What we've tried to push him on is his overall maturity – his on-the-field maturity, his off-the-field maturity – and, now, take it from being something that he’s good at and that’s fun to something that’s more real, professional and well-rounded,” Marsch said. “And everything from his understanding and approach to dealing with this difficult moment personally, but understanding where it fits within the team, has been good.”

Ultimately, for Valentin, that is exactly what this is about: the team.

“Obviously you want to play, and hopefully I get another chance,” Valentin said. “But if we keep on winning, then I’ll be happy to cheer the guys on.”