CARSON, Calif. – John Alexander Valencia’s MLS career did not start according to plan, but now that the Colombian defender has made his first start for Chivas USA, he has no intention of looking back.
The hulking defender made his league debut last Friday in the club’s 2-1 defeat to the Chicago Fire, starting alongside fellow behemoth center back Rauwshan McKenzie. That Valencia’s first appearance came weeks into the season was a shock to the defender, who served as a first-choice center back during the preseason before a quadriceps strain cut him down just days before the Rojiblancos’ season opener.
As Valencia recovered, McKenzie took hold of the starting job, leading to Valencia to seek time with the reserves, where he has started five of six reserve games this season.
But against Chicago, head coach Robin Fraser made the decision to shift center back Heath Pearce to his natural left back position, allowing Valencia to slide in alongside McKenzie for his debut.
“At some point, we had to get John a game,” Fraser told reporters of the rationale behind his defensive reconfiguration last Friday. “Obviously, John was brought here with certain things in mind; he got hurt leading into the first week and Rauwshan has done well and held onto the position since.”
Partnered alongside one another, Valencia and McKenzie – whom the Colombian veteran describes as having the skills to be a great center back – cut an imposing figure in central defense as both players stand taller than six feet. But it wasn’t just Valencia’s 6-foot-4, 170-pound frame that made him valuable in the back four, but also his ability to cleanly distribute the ball.
Valencia was able to make 30 successful passes out of the 39 attempts that he took during the match as well as a team-high nine defensive clearances. But while Valencia may have acquitted himself well in his first start in a new country, the Colombian defender admitted that he is still transitioning to the playing style in his new surroundings.
“I think that it was a little hard for me because I hadn’t played before this season, but I did my best in my debut by trying as hard as possible,” Valencia told MLSsoccer.com. “As time goes on, I believe that I’ll only integrate more with the group.”
His first start under his belt, Valencia intends to do whatever he can to become a fixture in the Rojiblancos back four, starting with this Sunday’s match against the San Jose Earthquakes (7 pm ET, Galavision).
“I need to continue to do what I can in training every day, day by day,” said a confident Valencia. “It was a little frustrating at first [to not play] because I was waiting to play, but I wasn’t able to get on the field, but now that I have a second chance, I’m here to give my all.”
Adam Serrano covers Chivas USA for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.