Jukka Raitala, the last-ever Montreal Impact captain is returning home to play with Finnish champions HJK Helsinki, the club where professionally it all began for the 63-times capped defender.
Raitala of course spent the last season in MLS with Minnesota United where opportunities were limited, after leaving Montreal in 2020.
But he did realize a lifetime ambition by playing for Finland in the delayed 2020 Euro finals tournament (held a year after originally scheduled), starting all three Group games. That included the game that no-one will forget when Christian Eriksson fell to the turf in Copenhagen.
The move means Champions League football for Raitala next season, as HJK go straight into qualifying round 1.
“I’m extremely happy with the agreement. It feels good to return to Helsinki with a familiar club and environment. Athletically, the hunger is hard, I want to continue developing the club and bring my own experience and value to the club,” said Raitala.
“There are constantly young and talented players at HJK with whom you can work every day and push them forward. When I was here at a young age, there were a lot of experienced players here and I really grateful for that.”
HJK’s sports director Miika Takkula also relates to the experience Raitala brings...
“It’s great to have an experienced A-national team player return to strengthen our defence. Jugi is able to play in the defense line in several different places and his basic playing at different stages of the game is of a high standard,” Takkula said.
Raitala would have joined fellow international Rasmus Schuller, also formerly of Minnesota United in Helsinki, however Schuller has moved on to pastures new with Djurgarden of Sweden. Tim Sparv is another former international team-mate exiting Helsinki - he retired after helping HJK to their latest title.
The former Impact man is expected to replace the Irish-Finn, Daniel O’Shaughnessy, whose next stop appears to be Bundesliga 2 with Karlsruher SC.
It’s a road well-travelled and one Raitala is familiar with having gone to play in Germany with Hoffenheim and Paderborn after leaving HJK twelve years ago.
Since then the Finn has played in the top divisions of Spain, Holland, Denmark, Norway and USA, with a particular career highlight being part of the Osasuna team which defeated Messi-inspired Barcelona, then still in their pomp, in La Liga.
Elmo TV football pundit Joel Perovuo sees the move as a positive one for both player and club, stating, “Good recruitment without a doubt. Raitala will basically replace O’Shaughnessy, but will also be able to play left defender or wing-back if necessary. I hope that Raitala will not be seen on HJK’s shirt on the right as in the national team,” added Perovuo.
“Raitala brings quality to HJK’s game and he is able to give line-breaking passes. Raitala is still fast enough and with good mobility.”
Jukka Raitala made 69 MLS appearances (1 goal) for Montreal Impact (19th highest in club history). His 9 appearances last season with Minnesota took him onto an MLS career total of 106, the other 28 outings coming with Columbus Crew before joining Montreal as part of the deal that saw Laurent Ciman head to LA.
Finland’s u21 Player of the Year in 2009, the same year as he became champion with HJK, Raitala also won the Finnish Cup in 2008 and became a Canadian champion in 2019 after Toronto FC was defeated on penalties at BMO Field.