CARSON, Calif. — The transition to MLS has been a quick one for Chivas USA rookie Zarek Valentin. But “quick” doesn’t necessarily mean “easy.”
The former University of Akron standout, who was drafted fourth in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft, has rapidly become a fixture of the Rojiblancos back line under head coach Robin Fraser. Thus far, Valentin has made 19 appearances, playing each position along the back four while also accruing the fourth-most minutes on the team.
The 19-year-old also played every minute during the United States U-20s' ill-fated attempt to qualify for the U-20 World Cup at the CONCACAF Championship this spring. Valentin’s success on the field has endeared him to Chivas USA fans, with one group of supporters providing the youngster with Oreo cookies — his favorite snack — after each home match.
MLSsoccer.com recently sat down with Chivas USA’s sweet toothed rookie sensation.
MLSsoccer.com: How do you feel that you’ve adapted to the league in your first season?
Valentin: I’ve been doing pretty well, I can definitely feel a sense of improvement since the first match to now and getting used to the league and how the game flows. It’s been going steady, but I need to keep improving and we need to keep trying to win. I’d rather have the team do well than worry about personal performances.
MLSsoccer.com: How important is it to have experienced guys like Heath Pearce and Mariano Trujillo give you advice the finer points of your game?
Valentin: It’s something that’s been invaluable. When I moved to the left, people said that I wasn’t in my preferred position, but it was easier because I have that support system. I trust Heath on and off the field, which translates a lot because I’ve noticed that the players you’re closest with on and off the field, you have better chemistry. He even gives me advice on the fly during games and that’s invaluable.
MLSsoccer.com: You’ve had some bumpy moments, including a failed cross vs. Sporting KC, and a brief time on the bench. How have you dealt with those?
Valentin: You’ve got to go through these growing pains to improve and I’ve thought it about it a lot, almost too much, but it’s just something that a lot of players go through. I want to get these kinds of issues out in practice and not in games, so I take baby steps and try to play within myself. I try to be me and try to improve step by step.
MLSsoccer.com: Your experience with the US U-20s didn’t work out. Talk about how that experience in Guatemala helped you grow up this season?
Valentin: Part of growing is dealing with losses and different scenarios. We’re all disappointed that we won’t be going to the World Cup, but looking back if we get in situations like that, whether it’s at a club or international level, we’ll deal with it a lot better. Hopefully with that knowledge, we can put ourselves on the right foot and take full advantage of the situations that we’re in.
MLSsoccer.com: There does not appear to be a clear front runner for Rookie of the Year this season. Do you feel that’s a conversation that you belong in?
Valentin: At this point, I don’t want to focus on things like that. I’m trying to get our team into the playoffs. I look around and I see a lot of guys doing well, like my fellow Reading United player C.J. Sapong, and Will Bruin is doing well, but I try not to focus on that too much. The team is first and if we make it to the playoffs, then that’s all that matters to me. Individual accolades can wait as long as our team does well.”
Adam Serrano covers Chivas USA for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @adamserrano