With 44 points, the Portland Timbers have managed to make it to the top of the MLS Western Conference, making this a very important milestone in their quest for making the playoffs and eventually bringing the league’s trophy home.
The Timbers have managed to maintain one loss in the last eight games and, of course, at the center of it all we find Diego Valeri. Described as one of the smoother and more technically inclined midfielders, Valeri has become the most valuable Timbers’ player and one of the top three in the MLS league (in my opinion). It goes without saying the man has what it takes to help his club bring the wins home.
Valeri started his professional soccer career in his native Argentina, but to learn more about his trajectory and understand how he has become one of the stars of the Timbers’ lineup, OSN had a 1:1 with Valeri to get all the details from the man himself.
OSN: How about if we start with Argentina? How long ago since you were there?
Diego Valeri (DV): Ah I mean I came here in 2013.
OSN: You were on loan first right?
DV: I came on loan but with the contract signed before, and the loan to see and know the place and know the club and I think it was good.
OSN: It was good for the team everybody agrees with that! How did you transition from playing in Latin-America & Portugal to US soccer?
DV: Every country is different, every league is different. The dynamic of every league is different and obviously you have to adapt. The adaptation was easy because the club helped me a lot. I mean my teammates helped me a lot, the coach, the crowd, so the support was always there, so it helped me. A good point it was my family, my wife, my daughter, they adapted really well, which made me happy and it gave me some freedom to be more focused in my job.
OSN: What was the biggest challenge?
DV: You know, to know how the people live here, how society lives and obviously the language is very different, so it’s hard, you can’t get some good conversations because is really hard to understand the jargon, it’s important for our job, so it’s very hard. But then inside the field you have to know your teammates and that’s the important thing. My teammates helped me a lot.
OSN: It sounds like you have evolved from joining the club to being a leader. How did that happen?
DV: It happened because of the time, because the amount of games you play, the amount of years you play. The impact that you are getting, you know with the time, and with the games and obviously I’m getting older, I mean old, I am getting old so I am experienced. I’ve played more than ten years professionally and it happens, you don’t want to be a leader but you have a responsibility here.
OSN: You bring up a good point, Marco Farfan. I interviewed him a few months back. What is it like to play with him? You have been playing professionally for ten years. He is from high school….
DV: It’s crazy, I was there, I was in his position so that’s why I can help him. I was sixteen, seventeen years old and getting my first pre-season with the team, with a professional team you know becoming a professional soccer player. And I know what it is, being in high school too. I was his roommate in the pre-season. He is a great guy, very humble, smart and very good player, so he has a lot of future.
OSN: You just got named, well, just joined the 50/50 Club (50 goals – 50 assists). That’s a significant accomplishment. When you came to play with the Timbers, did you think you would get this far?
DV: No, to be honest no. But like I told you before, I had the wish to make an impact on the team, in the history of this club when I arrived, but for that you have to sacrifice a lot, you have to work a lot. And obviously your teammates help you always so I didn’t imagine that. But I am still working, I am still working and still trying to make an impact not only individually but collectively too. We want to get trophies for this club.
OSN: You just got named the third best player of the MLS. What is next for Diego? Where do you see yourself?
DV: First I am very focused on my role of the team this last part of the season. Our goal is to make the playoffs, to get a trophy, so I am focused on that collectively. Individually? To be better in my role and then things happen. It’s an accident, and to be honest, it is an honor to be named the third, but you play for your teammates, you play for your fans, for the club, I mean that’s what feeds you.
OSN: Finally, you are playing in NY Yankees stadium this coming Saturday. What can we expect from Diego and the team there?
DV: I mean it’s my first time there, I’ve never played there, so let’s see, it’s a famous stadium so I will try to enjoy it, but like I told you, I must be very focused on my role and NY is a good team. They are looking for top of the table in the East Conference, we are looking for the top of the table too. They play mid-week too and maybe that will help us.
Forward past Saturday and not only did Valeri play at Yankee Stadium, but scored the winning goal over New York City FC helping the Timbers get to the top of the Western Conference table.
Valeri is the true image of what it is like to be all about the team and is committed to his role as a seasoned player. He’s passionate, strategic and exciting to watch when on the field. Valeri is more than valuable to the Timbers. He simply is as head coach Caleb Porter puts it, “I don’t know if there’s a better guy in the league.”
Throughout my short tenure as a sports writer, I have learned a lot about styles, personalities and priorities in professional athletes. After having had this 1:1 with Diego Valeri, I can attest to you that I have yet to meet a humbler professional athlete than him.
Every one of his goals are about his club, teammates and fans. He offers what he does best, but not for his own gain but for the love of the game and commitment to his club. Valeri is all about his wife and daughter too. Maybe it is for that reason that along with his humble and committed personality Valeri has managed to go from being on loan to becoming the star and face of the Timbers.
We can certainly expect Valeri to continue to be synonymous with the Timbers and Portland overall. In addition to top it off he shares the love he has for the city that the Timbers represent, Portland. “It’s our second home and to be honest and it’s about the people, about how they make us feel that is so special for us, for me and my family yeah, I am really happy.”