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2022 Houston Dynamo Player Previews - Zarek Valentin

The veteran right back returns to Houston looking to help solidify the Dynamo back line.

MLS: Minnesota United FC at Houston Dynamo Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

In the player preview series, we are going to take a look at the current players on the Dynamo roster, how they performed last season, and what we might expect from them in 2022. Here is the first in our series and stay tuned for more to come in the weeks leading up to the start of the season.

Zarek Valentin

Position - Right back

2021 MLS stats - 29 appearances, 28 starts, 1 assist

2021 Rewind

Valentin held down a right back position that was a bit of a mess for the Dynamo last season. Jose Bizama never showed much in his limited time and Tab Ramos even played Griffin Dorsey at some right back. Valentin was the one constant, a veteran presence that made 28 starts in his 29 appearances.

Valentin did not get forward much in Ramos’ system, he recorded 1 assist last season and had 2 shots, but his numbers suggest he has the ability. The 30-year-old is a solid passer, completing over 75 % of his passes last season and 89% on his short passes, and it is this kind of play the Dynamo should be looking for going forward. The 2021 season was such a mess that it was hard to gauge anything, but Valentin performed admirably in the role he was asked to play. With Tim Parker on the team last year and the addition of Teenage Hadebe midseason you might think that would have given Valentin more license to go forward but, alas, it did not.

2022 Expectations

As the new front office began making moves this offseason, right back was a position that a lot of Dynamo fans thought was due an upgrade. Valentin turns 31 this season and with the departure of Bizama this winter, there really isn’t another natural right back on the roster. Griffin Dorsey could get another look at right back minutes under new coach Paulo Nagamura but without any other signings between now and the season, it looks as though Valentin will be the starter come opening day.

It is still unclear what formation Nagamura will play in Houston and how his tactics set up but looking at his Sporting Kansas City II teams and how Peter Vermes play, you can make a reasonable guess it will be a 4-3-3. With that formation and the new “it” trend in soccer of attacking fullbacks, we could see Valentin asked to get forward more. Here is a look at his passing and defensive numbers from the 2021 season.

Even if Nagamura doesn’t have Valentin playing in a wing-back type roll, bombing forward in the attack, he will be looked to in linking the back line to the midfield. This was an area the Dynamo struggled mightily in last season with Ramos’ team often just trying to hit long balls over the top for the speedy wings to run on to. We saw how well that worked out.

Valentin plays more than 4 progressive passes a match, these are passes that move the ball towards the opposition goal at least 10 yards or into the penalty area. Left back Adam Lundkvist is also good at this trait so look for Nagamura and the new coaching staff to use this to their advantage. With 3 central midfielders likely in the lineup it will be important for Valentin and the fullbacks to play these types of passes from wide areas to open up defenses and enhance the Dynamo attack.

Valentin is also solid in his defensive actions. You can see by his clearances that the Dynamo were a team that won possession and lumped the ball forward. He is also strong in the air at the fullback position. His pressures and tackles are low, which could be a tactics thing, but you hope that these will go up. If Parker and Hadebe can turn in to solid defensive pillars in the middle, you also won’t need as many defensive actions from the fullbacks and can afford to send Valentin forward in to more attacking positions.

With a new system in place, I look for Valentin to get back to the strong points of his game, that I outlined above. Whether or not the Dynamo sign another right back to either take over the starting job or compete for minutes with Valentin remains to be seen. Could you upgrade at the position? Maybe, but I think Valentin and Lundkvist are both fullbacks who can do well in Major League Soccer and do well for teams that are playoff caliber. How do you feel about Valentin and the right back position heading in to the 2022 season? Let us know in the comments.