Crew SC's Valenzuela wastes no time in repaying Berhalter's confidence

OBETZ, Ohio – Milton Valenzuela had coach Gregg Berhalter's confidence before he ever stepped foot on the field for Columbus Crew SC.

The 19-year-old Argentine left back became Columbus’ first young Designated Player in January. And in Berhalter’s first interview after the signing, he said Valenzuela was his first-choice left-back signing in the offseason, calling him “a young player with a lot of potential.”

Less than two months later, that potential is already showing up. 

Valenzuela started the club’s first match of the season in Week 1 in Toronto, putting in an impressive defensive shift and adding an assist for an MLS Team of the Week-caliber performance in a 2-0 win that didn’t surprise Berhalter at all.

“What we saw [on tape] was him competing at a high level and being very focused and very professional in his performances,” Berhalter said at Crew SC training Tuesday. “We expected that to translate into MLS. It’s always somewhat difficult adapting to different leagues, but he has a good mindset. He’s focused on being a real pro and focused on learning. You can see that.”

Valenzuela said he’s been aided by fellow Argentines Federico Higuain – who scored Saturday from Valenzuela’s cross – and Gaston Sauro, and already feels comfortable in Columbus.

“I have very good teammates and a very good coaching staff,” he said through a team translator. “They’ve helped me on and off the field and helped me become acclimated to the team. Now, it’s showing on the field.”

Berhalter expected Valenzuela to succeed, but knew that there was no guarantee. Thus far, however, the Crew SC boss said he’s seeing exactly what he hoped from Valenzuela.

“Sometimes you don’t always get that,” he said. “Sometimes you see something different than what you actually get. But with him, it was very similar to what we saw – a high level of professionalism, a high level of concentration and his defending.”

Valenzuela is already building a reputation for maturity beyond his age, and his stated goals for the season are largely team-oriented. Like a veteran, Valenzuela credited his squad for the Team of the Week honor.

“It’s a beautiful thing, but I think it speaks more to the performance of the team, and I’m only there because of the performance of the team,” he said. “The fact that I was named to the team of the week was more of a bonus but yes, I’m happy.”