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Chivas USA 2011 Postmortem: Zarek Valentin

CARSON, CA - JULY 06:  Valentin during his season with Chivas USA.  (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
CARSON, CA - JULY 06: Valentin during his season with Chivas USA. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
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Today's review is kind of a bummer. Right back Zarek Valentin was the fourth overall draft pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft, coming out of the University of Akron after his sophomore year, and signed a Generation Adidas contract, which guaranteed him a much higher salary than most rookies and a bonus for his club, who wouldn't have to count his salary against the team's cap figures.

On the field, Valentin became a fixture for his first MLS club, Chivas USA, in 2011. Making 25 appearances (24 starts) with the fifth-most minutes for the team played on the season, Valentin enjoyed a solid rookie campaign. He was the established right back after Heath Pearce moved to center back early on, and the two defenders established a strong relationship on and off the field, with Valentin living with Pearce for the year. Although Chivas' defense was inconsistent, and completely fell apart towards the end of the season, Valentin looked to be a player for the future, who could even develop into a U.S. Men's National Team-caliber defender.

We all know that Valentin, at 20 years old, has a great deal of developing left to do, but as you no doubt know, he won't be doing it with Chivas. In what can charitably be called an unfair decision on the part of the Generation Adidas folks, or can more realistically be called something of a fiasco, Valentin was 'graduated' from the Generation Adidas program after just one season, which set up a major chain of events. GA players typically, though not always, stay in the program for two years, and the only other rookie to 'graduate' from the program in 2011 was fellow defender Perry Kitchen (D.C. United), who played 31 matches in his first season.

At any rate, because of the removal of the GA tag for Valentin, Chivas evidently thought he was too expensive to protect in the MLS Expansion Draft and left him unprotected. Unsurprisingly, the Montreal Impact snapped Valentin up in record time, and Chivas got nothing for him. The right back of the future? He'll be playing in Eastern Canada now.

In the aftermath of the Expansion Draft, coach Robin Fraser complained that Valentin should never have 'graduated' from Generation Adidas, saying he wasn't ready in his development to be done with the program. While he may have a point, the fact that the nine games Valentin missed on the season were mostly due to USMNT U20 duty and injury, it seems Fraser trusted him enough to play him nearly every match. You could argue that Fraser had little choice, as Chivas maybe didn't have better options after Jimmy Conrad went down injured and Pearce shifted to the middle in his place. If Conrad had stayed healthy, and if Pearce played right back all season, Valentin likely would have only gotten spot duty in 2011. Could the coaching staff have a case that necessity meant Valentin had to play?

I suppose it is possible. But Chivas could have avoided this entire episode by simply eating his salary and protecting him. He was good enough to start most matches and what would change in a season? Would Chivas get rid of him a year from now when they expected him to leave the program? That seems pretty shortsighted, and while Valentin certainly has work to do on his game, he seemed like a promising professional that Chivas should have made a long-term investment in.

Now, we'll have to see what he can do in Montreal. He is very skinny, and needs to bulk up, although some of that might come with age. Ideally, he should become more involved in his team's attack, as he stayed at home in defense in 2011, a move that was pretty logical in order to ensure he learned his defensive duties first and foremost. But most full backs need to be able to run up and down the wing, and chip in crosses when possible. Ante Jazic did this very well for Chivas at left back in 2011. I think ideally the full backs should both be moving up and down the field in order to press opponents and wear out opposing wingers and full backs. That's something Valentin will need to work on.

Although Montreal looks to be putting together a pretty solid squad in their inaugural MLS season, most new clubs struggle to really have a good first season. We'll have to wait and see how the Impact perform, but Valentin may have another tough season ahead of him, and with a new club. He's a player to watch in the coming seasons, and Chivas fans will have mixed feelings when watching him. If he can be a senior USMNT-caliber player, Chivas will have likely blown a golden chance to establish their defense for many years, unless they can find a similarly-talented player. If he turns out to be a solid MLS pro, but not quite a top player in the league, then maybe Chivas' willingness to let him leave may be good financial sense in the long term. I am sorry to see Valentin go, and I wish him the best, but I hope Chivas know what they are doing with this move for the club.

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