CARSON, Calif. – The typical rookie season is full of learning experiences – some positive, some negative, but all extremely valuable.
For Chivas USA right back Zarek Valentin, one of those lessons came on Sunday against one of the finest back lines in MLS, when he went the distance in Chivas’ 1-0 defeat to the LA Galaxy.
A regular starter earlier in the season, Valentin – who hadn’t seen any game action in more than a month – filled in for injured right back Michael Umaña and acquitted himself well over the course of the match.
“It's definitely good [to get back on the field],” Valentin told MLSsoccer.com. “A lot of players go through periods where they [have] to take a step back and correct things that are wrong and get a wider point of view, and that's one thing that I had to do.”
In his first match back, Valentin received a clinic on crack defending, as Galaxy stalwarts Gregg Berhalter, Omar Gonzalez and Todd Dunivant routinely made timely slide tackles, deflections or takeaways to deny Chivas from breaking through.
Observing the talented LA trio was especially valuable for Valentin, who has at times struggled this season with defensive lapses. The rookie confessed that throughout the match, he was looking for a chance to learn a new skill to add to his defensive arsenal.
“I know that little moments I was thinking a step or two off so that I could watch this game and pick up some things and learn from every experience,” Valentin said. “Their vision is just impeccable. The defensive mentality is great, and I try to be a little bit more tenacious, which is something that they have.
“They're great guys off the field, but when they come on the field, they're very tough to play against, and that's something that I try to incorporate into my own game.”
The injury to Umaña has opened the door for Valentin to put this lesson, and the many others he’s learned in his first year, to practice when Chivas return to the pitch on Saturday for their season finale against the Seattle Sounders.
“We'll see,” said Valentin. “Coach [Robin Fraser] is going to put the best players on the field and hopefully I can show well in training because I still want to progress as much as I can before the offseason.”
Adam Serrano covers Chivas USA for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.