CARSON, Calif. – For Chivas USA rookie Zarek Valentin, there will be plenty of chances to define himself as a professional. Count this week as one of the biggest – and toughest – opportunities so far.
Less than 48 hours after returning from a stint with the United States U-20 team in Guatemala, Valentin was back in the starting lineup for Chivas USA in their scoreless draw against the Crew on Saturday night. Facing burly Crew forward Emilio Renteria, Valentin faced a physical battle that clearly tested the teenage defender.
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Following the match, his head coach, a former MLS Defender of the Year provided his rookie center back with a few words of wisdom on his performance.
“As a young defender, it’s on the job training and you’ve got to learn very quickly," head coach Robin Fraser said. "And there were a lot of lessons to be learned from this match, some that he picked up on and some that he didn’t."
Throughout the match, the Crew began to focus on the rookie defender, which led to several mistakes off the back that led to Columbus scoring opportunities. While the rookie had his struggles, he also came up big several times to preserve the shutout.
No moment was bigger than in the 58th minute, when Valentin was able to stop a Rentería breakaway with a last-gasp clearance. Following the scoreless draw, Valentin was blunt and admitted that travel from Guatemala had finally caught up to him.
“I started to feel my legs at the end of the match," he said. "I think that the trip to Guatemala caught up to me at the end of the match, but you still need to stay sharp, which is the most important thing. I think that they let me off the hook personally a few times, but it’s important to stay focus and even when you’re tired, those are the moments that you need to stay sharpest.”
True to the life of a professional soccer player, the road ahead will not get any easier for the 19-year-old Valentin. As the Rojiblancos now prepare to go on yet another road swing, this time a two-week stint away to the Vancouver Whitecaps and San Jose Earthquakes, it is likely that Valentin will remain in his starting role in the central defense for the Rojiblancos.
“I’m glad that they’re patient with me because I’m trying to take everything in stride and be a sponge and adapt as fast I can,” Valentin said.
Adam Serrano covers Chivas USA for MLSSoccer.com, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @adamserrano