The last two years have been something of a rollercoaster ride for Zarek Valentin. Regarded as one of the best up-and-coming defensive prospects in the U.S., Valentin was drafted fourth overall by Chivas USA in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft. The Pennsylvania native played 25 games for the Goats in what was a very positive rookie season, which resulted in a call up with the under-23 U.S national team.
But in a decision which surprised many across the league, Valentin was left unprotected by Chivas in the 2012 MLS expansion draft and the Montreal Impact pounced on the opportunity to bring Valentin north to Quebec for its 2012 expansion season.
After a year of highs and lows in Montreal, Valentin is on the move yet again.
The Impact announced on Wednesday that, pending a medical, Valentin will head on loan to FK Bodø/Glimt in Norway’s second-highest division until the end of 2013. The decision comes as little surprise considering the young defender wasn't even on the bench for any of the Impact’s first four games this season.
With Valentin failing to really impress new head coach Marco Schällibaum in preseason training, the Swiss native opted for Hassoun Camara in the right fullback position to start the season, and the Frenchman has been excellent so far.
Valentin seemed to have also fallen out of favour last year with erstwhile head coach Jesse Marsch. After starting in most of the Impact’s games during the first half of the season, Valentin didn’t feature all that much in the second half. An ankle injury did keep him out for a month, but even after he was healthy again in August, he didn’t play a single minute in the Impact’s final seven games of the season.
The loan deal makes sense for both parties. FK Bodø/Glimt will provide a great learning experience for Valentin, with increased playing time and the chance of moving onto bigger clubs in Europe, while the Impact will be able to clear up some important salary cap space. The Impact simply couldn’t afford to have a player of Valentin’s salary playing with the reserve team.
Impact sporting director Nick De Santis told reporters on Wednesday that Valentin will greatly benefit from a change of scenery.
“He’ll get familiar with another environment, another mentality and another culture of soccer," De Santis said. "It’ll also help his development on the tactical and technical sides. I think he’s open to that idea, as he saw how other players went through similar experiences to great effect.”
With Camara thriving at right fullback, however, it’s difficult to see Valentin finding space even after the loan is compete, especially since Jeb Brovsky, whose been very sound at left fullback this season, can also replace Camara on the right-hand side if necessary.
Montreal could get pretty good value from trading Valentin in MLS – plenty of teams would want him - but the club probably won’t be all that keen on the idea of the 21-year-old potentially excelling elsewhere within the same league. Valentin will likely remain in Europe.
It does say a lot about just how strong and deep this now league-leading Impact side has become to have not wanted to retain him.
Do the Impact need Paponi?
Valentin's departure now frees up space in the salary cap for the Impact to potentially make a splash on the transfer market.
On Wednesday, De Santis confirmed with the media a report made by Goal.com earlier this week that the team has been in talks with Bologna over a potential loan deal which would see forward and winger Daniele Paponi transfer to the Impact on loan until December.
Paponi caught De Santis’ attention in Italy last November when Montreal met Bologna in a friendly. The 24-year-old helped Bologna to a 1-0 win by scoring the winning goal on the night and putting in a man of the match performance to boot.
The former under-20 Italian international was pegged as a player of immense potential when he joined Parma as a teenager in 2005, but other than the odd shade of brilliance, he never lived up to it. He joined Bologna in 2010, but has barely played since. The Emilia-Romagna side has tried to ship the Ancona native to Serie B and other lesser leagues, but Paponi always refused to leave, convinced that he could prove to Bologna that he was good enough to play in Serie A.
Now that Paponi still finds himself on the sidelines, reality might just be catching up with him. And he’s not getting any younger – he turns 25 in April.
But as De Santis explained to reporters, Paponi coming to Montreal also depends on whether he’s actually willing to in the first place.
“It’s up to us to see if, first of all, he would come here, spend time in Montreal and show us his qualities and personality,” De Santis explained. “It’s on the table, but we haven’t made a decision yet.”
Paponi certainly has talent. He’s got good speed and likes to take players on 1vs1. He’s still young and has good years ahead of him. His former teammates Marco Di Vaio and Andrea Pisanu could certainly help him acclimate as well.
Before this season started, De Santis highlighted the outside midfield position as an area of weakness for the Impact, which is why Pisanu, Andres Romero and Blake Smith were signed in the offseason.
Does interest in Paponi mean that De Santis is dissatisfied with what he’s seen from his new signees so far?
Romero has shown some glimpses and Pisanu has been largely disappointing, but it’s still early days in the season. With the Impact sitting atop the MLS standings, they can afford to wait a little longer to see how the new guys really pan out.
At least the club isn't resting on its laurels and is keeping its options open.