Forget everything you know about the Portland Timbers 2017 season so far. Forget the injuries. Forget the subpar performances. Forget the losses. With only six games remaining in the regular season, the Timbers find themselves sitting comfortably in second place in the Western Conference, fighting for the playoff’s first seed against their greatest rivals, the first place Seattle Sounders.
Portland Timbers fans, if you’re wondering who you should thank for this, you must have forgotten the title of this piece already. That’s my fault. I did tell you to forget everything. So let me remind you why your team is where they are right now. His name is Diego Valeri.
Diego Valeri will most likely not be the MVP of MLS this year. He may or may not even be in the final conversation when the votes are cast, but in the hearts of Timbers fans, Valeri is admired and respected because, without question, he is the number one reason the Timbers are where they are right now.
Valeri was the Timbers sole representative at the 2017 MLS All-Star game against Real Madrid. On August 12, with his 89th minute goal against the league’s best team, Toronto FC, Valeri became the 18th player in MLS history to score 50 goals and register 50 assists, all in a Timbers jersey. He now sits tied with Chicago’s Nemanja Nikolic for second in the league in goals with 16, three goals behind Golden Boot leader NYCFC’s David Villa. Both Villa and Nikolic have at some point this season been on pace to beat the all time MLS scoring record of 27 goals. Valeri also has 9 assists, tied for 9th in the league in that category. He leads the Timbers in both goals and assists. He has four game winning goals and three game winning assists so far this season.
Diego Valeri, my friends, is a winner. Even when the team loses, he carries himself with class. Now don’t think I’m hopping on the hot streak band wagon here. I told you back in June that Valeri was an MVP candidate. Keep in mind that he’s putting forth this dominating performance as a midfielder, not as a striker. At this point, Valeri has more goals than both Toronto’s Sebastian Giovinco and New York Red Bulls’ Bradley Wright-Phillips, two of the top goal scorers in the history of the league.
Sunday, Valeri and the Timbers traveled north to face the Seattle Sounders. This Cascadia rivalry took on even greater meaning as the two teams sat atop the Western Conference, with Seattle holding a one-point lead in the standings. The Timbers played to a hard-fought 1-1 draw, leaving the standings remaining the same (Sounders in first, Timbers in second) with only six games left to play.
It was the 99th meeting between the clubs, and had all the markings of a true rivalry match. Early in the half, the Timbers gave up a scrappy goal off a corner kick, with midfielder and recent USMNT call up, Christian Roldan, beating keeper Jeff Attinella to the ball, then outworking both his teammates and opponents in the box until finally getting a touch that directed the ball into the net.
True to form, the Timbers came out aggressive and showed well in the first half, finally capitalizing on a penalty kick in first half stoppage time to level the game at one. Valeri set up the Timbers goal with a gorgeous through ball into the box, leading forward Darren Mattocks on goal. Mattocks was met by two defenders and a sliding keeper, and won a penalty in the final seconds of the half. Varleri calmly converted the PK for his team record 6th straight game with a goal.
Valeri is now tied for the Timbers single season scoring record with 16 goals. There is plenty of season left for him to add to this total. He is now the Timbers all-time leading scorer, and is quickly moving towards the same record in assists. This Sunday set the tone for the playoffs, as the final stretch of the Timbers quest for their second MLS Cup begins. They just need to keep on winning. Valeri, no doubt, is up to the task.