Who Is Jhojan Valencia, Austin FC’s Latest Big-Money Signing?

And other Qs asked (and answered) about the 25-year-old midfielder

Earlier this month, Austin FC loaned out former designated player Tomás Pochettino and elevated Alex Ring to DP status, freeing up a hefty chunk of cash to target a difference-maker in the international transfer market. Wednesday, we learned who the club has settled on to fill that role.

Austin FC has secured the signing of 25-year-old Colombian midfielder Jhojan Valencia, according to a report from ESPN’s Taylor Twellman. The Verde and Black had been linked to Valencia since late 2021. Majority owner Anthony Precourt all but confirmed the news late Wednesday, firing off his signature “green smoke” tweet to signify the completion of a signing.

UPDATE 1/13: Austin FC officially announced Valencia's signing Thursday morning. The contract is for three years, plus a fourth-year option.

So, who is Jhojan Valencia, and how will he fit into the Austin FC blueprint? The Verde Report did some digging to find out all there is to know about the newest member of El Tree.

Where did he play last?

Last season, Valencia helped his hometown club of Deportivo Cali become champions of Colombia, defeating Deportes Tolima in the league final in December. He was one of Deportivo Cali’s stalwarts in 2021, playing 45 of 50 matches and starting 43. Prior to that, he spent time on loan with Unión Magdalena, helping them win promotion from the Colombian second division to the top flight.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CTYfWPWMhxX/

What type of player is he?

At 5-foot-8, Valencia is a quick, diminutive defensive midfielder. In Colombia, he played primarily as part of a “double-pivot,” a tactical setup in which two defensive midfielders work in tandem to cover ground and advance the ball in possession. He led Deportivo Cali in tackles won, interceptions, fouls, and yellow cards in 2021, anchoring their title-winning defense. He contributed just one goal and two assists offensively, taking fewer than one shot per game. He is not a threat on set pieces due to his size.

In available highlight footage, Valencia can be seen scampering for disruptive tackles and making steady, progressive passes from his deep-lying position. From a purely stylistic (not talent) standpoint, a good comparison might be Chelsea midfielder N’golo Kanté.

How will he fit with Austin FC?

Given his age, experience, and price tag (more on that below), Valencia should be expected to start immediately and regularly for the Oaks once the MLS season begins. Austin FC gave up a Western Conference-worst 56 goals in its first season. Valencia should help lower that figure significantly in 2022.

Last season, the majority of Austin FC’s minutes in defensive midfield belonged to Alex Ring. But if we learned one thing about the Austin FC captain from his press conferences, it’s that he fancies himself much more as an attacking-minded player than his career to-date has demonstrated. Whether head coach Josh Wolff choses to play Ring beside Valencia in a double-pivot or closer to Sebastián Driussi in the attack, Valencia should significantly lighten Ring’s defensive responsibilities and allow him to go goal- and assist-hunting to his heart’s desire.

UPDATE 1/13: Sporting Director Claudio Reyna confirmed much of the above in a statement, saying, "Jhojan is a young, talented midfielder with great defensive instincts and an eye for the ball. His presence will add a new dimension to our midfield and free up some of our more attack-minded players to get forward and create chances."

What did he cost?

According to Twellman, Austin FC paid a “seven figure transfer fee” for Valencia, which should be understood to mean the low-seven figures, likely less than $2 million. For comparison, Pochettino, a player valued higher than Valencia and whom the Colombian is – from a financial standpoint – somewhat replacing, cost Austin FC $2.5 million in reported transfer fees.

Check back for updates once an exact figure is announced.

Wait, doesn’t Austin FC already have a Jhojan?

Yes. Center back Jhohan Romaña, also Colombian, slightly different spelling. You don’t mess with the Jhohans.

What other signings will Austin FC make before the season?

Not many. Probably just one, especially in terms of potential starters. Precourt and Sporting Director Claudio Reyna have been adamant since the beginning of the offseason that upgrading at center back is the club’s top priority. While snagging the No. 1 collegiate center back in the country, Kipp Keller, in Tuesday’s MLS SuperDraft was an unexpected bonus, the expectation is that Austin FC will bring in a player who can start immediately on the back line before the 2022 season kicks off.

Even with the departure of Pochettino, the addition of said player, combined with Valencia, Keller, striker Maxi Urruti, and winger Ethan Finlay, would represent a very productive offseason for a club looking to get on track in its sophomore season.

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Read more Austin FC coverage – including Eric Goodman’s weekly column, The Verde Report – at austinchronicle.com/austin-fc. Follow him on Twitter: @goodman.

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