KISSIMMEE, Fla. – A sorrowful look. A face distorted by pain. That was the last most people saw of Zarek Valentin on an Major League Soccer field in 2012.
Following a one-month recovery from an ankle sprain suffered in a 3-0 rout by the Houston Dynamo on July 21, Valentin unexpectedly failed to appear again for the team at all. Instead he had to make do with a place on the bench, from where he witnessed Hassoun Camara, Jeb Brovsky and Davy Arnaud take turns in his spot.
Thankfully, preseasons turn out funny sometimes. Under new coach Marco Schällibaum, Valentin has looked as comfortable in training as he ever had since Montreal picked him up in the 2011 Expansion Draft. And now, winning the Swiss coach over and getting back into the Impact’s D seems a serious possibility.
“He’s very open-minded, I like him a lot,” Schällibaum told reporters after the Impact’s 4-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Wednesday. “He has my full confidence.”
Asked about his coach’s good words on Thursday morning, Valentin reacted gratefully.
“Knowing that any coach – or any person in particular – has confidence in you is a comforting feeling,” Valentin told the media. “But you still have to go out there and bust your butt the best you can to get a spot.”
Valentin faces stiff competition, however, and Schällibaum might have been tempted to consider Wednesday's match against the Rowdies as something of a slip-up for the University of Akron alum when a number of Tampa Bay chances were created down his side.
It was Valentin’s first offense, though, and the Montreal boss mercifully pointed out after the game.
“Until today, I’d never seen him panic,” Schällibaum said. “Maybe he didn’t feel well coming to the field, yet after the game, he felt as good as anyone else. Some days are like that. He played a decent defensive game, didn’t commit too many mistakes at the back. Tomorrow, he’ll train well and forget about today.”