Diego Valeri scored both goals against San Jose in the Portland Timbers home victory last weekend, bringing his goal tally for the year to eight. Tack on another four assists and the Argentinian fan favorite jumps right back into the MVP conversation.
With Darlington Nagbe out due to a USMNT call-up for the upcoming World Cup qualifier against Trinidad & Tobago on Thursday, the responsibility to control the midfield fell solely upon Valeri. And as we’ve come to expect from the 31 year old Designated Player, he stepped up to the challenge, thriving in front of another sold out crowd at Providence Park.
Without question, Diego Valeri is the hub of the Timbers attack. It runs through him. His job is to find space, to create space, and to take advantage of the smallest lapse in an opponents defense to punish them by allowing his talented teammates to do what they do best.
Valeri’s two goals in Portland’s 2-0 win over San Jose pushed the team up one spot to 4th in the Western Conference, sitting just two points below Dallas and Houston, and four points below Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City. As much as Portland fans love to see Seattle lose, the Sounders 1-0 victory over Houston on Sunday helped keep the top of the table in view for Portland, and sets them up to potentially move into second place after their upcoming match against FC Dallas on Saturday.
Although Dallas currently shares second place in the West, they do so with two games in hand on both Houston and Kansas City, and one game in hand on Portland, placing them in the top spot in this week’s MLS Power Rankings.
Valeri did not play against Dallas when these two teams met earlier this season. He was out with a hip injury suffered against Vancouver. Head coach Caleb Porter spoke to this following Valeri’s strong showing in the game on Friday.
“A couple of games back from injury, I think it took him a little bit just to get into a rhythm,” Porter said. “But certainly this game, he was back to doing what he does: scoring goals and creating chances for us.”
The two goal showing against San Jose gives Valeri a total of eight goals on the season, which sees him tied for third in the league’s Golden Boot race, alongside New York City forward David Villa and fellow midfielder, Columbus’ Justin Meram. Second is Houston’s Erick Torres with ten goals, one behind league leader Nemanja Nikolic of Chicago.
A midfielder ending the season as the league’s top goalscorer would be quite a feat, but it is fun to watch him stay in the hunt as the season progresses. But scoring goals is just one of the many things Valeri has to offer his team. His foremost role is controlling the pace of the game and seamlessly connecting the defense and attack, using his skills and vision to transition from one to the other with the quickness of striking snake.
Every time Valeri touches the ball there is the potential for something dangerous to occur. If he is not sending a through ball into the attack he is setting up someone who is in a better position to do so, all the while making runs off the ball to create space either for himself, or at times more importantly, for the likes of Fanendo Adi, the team’s second leading scorer. Not only that, he can run with the ball, possessing skills that no defense in the league is immune to. It is exactly this multi-faceted skill set that plants Valeri firmly in the MVP conversation.
His MLSsoccer.com bio says it all:
“[Valeri] first joined the club on loan as a Designated Player from Lanús on Jan. 10, 2013… In a relatively small amount of time, Valeri established himself as one of the best creative attacking midfielders in MLS, pulling off moments of sublime skill and creating goals of purest silk.”
If things continue to go as well for Valeri as they have been, the Timbers Army may have to roll out a Valeri MVP tifo “of purest silk.”