Columbus Crew SC made waves in the transfer pool on Friday when it announced it had acquired 19-year-old Argentinian defender Milton Valenzuela of Superliga Argentina club Newell’s Old Boys on loan with a buy option in a long-rumored move.
Signing as a Young Designated Player, Valenzuela will play left back for the Black & Gold. The need became apparent after the departures of fullbacks Jukka Raitala and Waylon Francis this offseason. The Argentinian will be the third Designated Player for Crew SC for the upcoming season after use of Targeted Allocation Money on defender Jonathan Mensah, a DP last season.
“We actually were able to utilize all of our money better by making him a young Designated Player,” Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter said. “There’s a $150,000 charge for having three Designated Players, and if one of them is a Young Designated Player, you don’t pay that charge.”
A designated player aged 20 or younger like Valenzuela carries a cost of $150,000, compared to the usual charge of $480,625 for a full season of a DP aged older than 24. A Designated Player aged 23 or younger has a budget charge of $200,000.
Valenzuela earned 10 caps with nine starts for Argentina’s U-20 squad. He joined Newell’s Old Boys youth academy at age 14, making his debut for the first team at age 17. Berhalter called the newcomer coachable and said he’s been molded by the tough competition of his home country.
A new wrinkle that Berhalter hopes to add to Valenzuela’s game is attacking ability. Crew SC’s full backs are known for getting forward while sending in crosses and cutting in on occasion. Offensive aggression has yet to show itself from the Argentinian so far, due to the philosophy of Newell’s Old Boys.
“What we haven’t seen so far is the really aggressive attacking play just because his team, it wasn’t their style of play,” Berhalter said. “He prefers that style, he just wasn’t utilizing that fashion. For his age, very good ball control, very good technical ability and very good defensive skills.”
Berhalter has confidence in the 19-year-old’s offensive future and compared him to former Crew SC defender Hernan Grana. In his recruiting of Valenzuela, Crew SC’s coach emphasized his team’s style and the exposure of Major League Soccer. First contact was made five months ago, and there was a cold period in negotiations before circling back around, Berhalter said.
The current fullbacks on the Black & Gold roster outside of Valenzuela include Harrison Afful, Connor Maloney and Hector Jimenez. Afful and Maloney frequent the left side while Jimenez has been capable on both sides.
A young player like Valenzuela brings value for both Crew SC and MLS. As large, international signings of younger players become more common in the league, exposure is beneficial to all sides. A player like Valenzuela can play a fruitful career in Black & Gold and still succeed abroad later.
“I like the fact that these players have resale value,” Berhalter said. “I truly believe that our league needs to be both an import and an export league. I think that’s healthy for the balance of our economic system. We would like nothing more than for Milton to have a successful career in MLS and perhaps have suitors in higher leagues that come after him because of his quality.”
Before last August and the signing of midfielder Pedro Santos, Crew SC had just two Designated Players in Mensah and midfielder Federico Higuain. It now has four who have held the distinction on the roster. Columbus is going after top-caliber players. And MLS is in an arms race.
“If we’re not doing that, we’re in trouble,” Berhalter said. “Because everyone else in the league is.”