Why Diego Valeri is So Crucial to the Timbers

The Argentine has scored in 4 straight games, including 3 match-winners
by Ray Marcham   |   Thursday, August 14, 2014

Green Logs - a column on the Portland Timbers & the Portland soccer scene

The pass was perfect, springing his teammate forward and setting up what became the match-winning goal.

For the casual fan of Major League Soccer, that pass, which led to Landon Donovan’s goal that allowed the MLS All-Stars to defeat Bayern Munich in the All-Star Game in Portland’s Providence Park, introduced them to the growing legend that is Diego Valeri.

Of all the signings that the Timbers have made since Caleb Porter became head coach after the 2012 season, none has been bigger than Valeri. If there’s any primary reason why the Timbers are still in the playoff hunt in the Western Conference, despite a horrific home record and the large amount of draws earlier in the season, it’s that Valeri has carried them.

His ability to change a match in an instant has become a wonder to watch. A prime example is Saturday night’s match against Chivas USA at Providence Park. After Will Johnson broke up a pass in the 10th minute, Diego Chara tipped the ball to Valeri on the defensive side of midfield. He then dribbled up the middle, with the Goats’ Nathan Sturgis trying to catch up. When Sturgis caught up and went to establish his defensive position, Valeri made a quick move to the right that spun Sturgis around. Then he shot from the top of the penalty area, a quickly dipping shot that Dan Kennedy had no chance at. Suddenly, the Timbers lead 1-0 and Valeri has given the club a huge confidence boost that carries them through the match.

Valeri has scored in 4 straight matches, and each goal has given Portland a lead. He also had the match-winner in the 3 games the Timbers have won in that stretch, including goals against Colorado on July 18 and in Montréal on July 27 that came in the last 10 minutes.

But it’s not just his ability to score that has been a major part of his game. Valeri leads the Timbers in assists with 8, and his pass to Fanendo Adi in the Chivas match that began the sequence which ended in Rodney Wallace’s first goal for Portland since coming back from a knee injury was a prime example of how he is as much a force as a distributor as he is a shooter.

Then again, his reputation as a great passer was likely solidified in the MLS All-Star Game. The pass to Donovan, coming from the right side, was in the perfect spot. All Donovan had to do was set up, shake off a Bayern defender and shoot. The reaction from many soccer media members on Twitter was as much in awe of Valeri’s pass as it was that Donovan had given the MLS All-Stars the lead over the German champions. It became a major highlight of the match and a talking point for fans around the soccer world.

That Valeri is a massive part of the Timbers’ attack is an understatement. He has 30 percent of Portland’s assists and 24 percent of their shots on goal. He’s also been able to make up for what had been a subpar season for Darlington Nagbe, even before Nagbe got injured. And that he’s scored in the last four matches, when the Timbers have desperately needed points to stay in the playoff chase, has added to his importance this season.

And he needs to stay hot over the last 11 MLS games, plus the looming matches in the CONCACAF Champions League. If Portland is to make the MLS playoffs, Valeri must continue to score the crucial goals, come through with clutch passes and help Wallace, Adi and Urruti dominate up front. Depending on how much he plays in the CCL, he will likely be a crucial element if the Timbers are to get out of the group stage and into the knockout rounds in the spring.

Sounds simple enough, except that teams will increase their defensive efforts on Valeri. That should open up the midfield more for Johnson, Chara and maybe Fernández, as Valeri looks to find open space. But that Valeri will find that space, whether it is laying back, drifting to the wing or finding a seam in the box.

Or, pretty much what he’s done since arriving from Lanús before the 2013 season.

NEXT UP: August 16 – Portland Timbers vs. New England Revolution, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass. 7:30 p.m. EST, KPTV (Oregon/SW Washington), MLS Live.

Ray MARCHAM

Nationality:
USA
College:
Washington State
Club Domestic:
Portland Timbers
Club Foreign:
Arsenal
Cascadia native and a fan for as long as he can remember, Ray was brought up on the old NASL. Learned to love MLS. Wanted to play like Clive Charles. Then like Tony Adams. Only dreams, of course.
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