Diego Valeri has probably been the best player in MLS so far this season, with his five goals and four assists leading the Portland Timbers to the top of the Western Conference.


Both figures rank among the top three in MLS with his five goals tied for third and the four assists tied for second. Unfortunately for Portland, Valeri will not be taking the field this Saturday against FC Dallas (8 pm ET; MLS LIVE) in a matchup against one of the two teams who are averaging more points per game than the Timbers. This is because the playmaker suffered a Grade 1 hip strain in last week’s win against Vancouver Whitecaps FC.


This will be the first game Valeri has missed since July 13 of last year and he missed four total last season. The Timbers drew all four of those games, scoring just two goals. The Timbers went a longer stretch without Valeri at the beginning of the 2015 season, when he missed the first eight games.


What’s really disappointing about this injury, though it doesn’t sound like he will be missing too much time, is that Valeri is having maybe his best season in MLS at the age of 30. He’s averaging career highs in goals (excluding penalties), assists, chances created from open play and big chances created.


*All stats are per 90 minutes (credit: Opta)

Year
Goals (ex. penalties)
Assists
Big Chances Created
Chances Created from Open Play
2013
.36
.52
.24
1.58
2014
.33
.46
.36
2.05
2015
.11
.42
.21
1.79
2016
.34
.24
.27
1.88
2017
.39
.52
.52
2.21

Not only has he created a ton of chances this season, but he has also created the best chances, according to the data. The chances he has created have amounted to an expected goals value of 3.42 -- a full goal more than any other player in the league. 


Obviously there’s no replacement for this kind of production. The Timbers do not even have another player who strictly plays attacking midfielder on their roster. Of course, there are two other options who already in the starting lineup that can be moved into the middle to make up for the Valeri absence.


Putting either Darlington Nagbe or Sebastian Blanco in as the No. 10 would be the most obvious solution, with Dairon Asprilla or Darren Mattocks ready to step into a starting role on the wing.


Nagbe of course played in the middle next to Valeri in the Timbers’ run to MLS Cup in 2015, but it is clear that he is most comfortable on the left wing. There’s a reason why Caleb Porter made it clear that the US international would be playing there this season.


Over the years he has been moved into the No. 10 position to replace Valeri, nine games to be exact, with middling results. He has seen an uptick in chances created per 90 minutes (1.90 from 1.77) and the Timbers averaged 1.33 points per game. That number is much lower than the 1.51 they have averaged in the 67 other games since 2015. 1.33 points per game would not have made the MLS Cup Playoffs in the Western Conference last season, while 1.51 would have meant 4th place.


Blanco came to the Timbers to play on the right wing, but he does have the skill set to play in Valeri’s position. He did so many times while playing in Argentina and is currently second on the team in chances created per 90 at 1.63.


Another option for head coach Caleb Porter is to play a 4-4-2 with Fanendo Adi pairing with another striker up top. Mattocks or SuperDraft pick Jeremy Ebobisse could fill that role.


Whatever way Porter goes, it’s clear that Valeri’s loss will be a big one. Beating Dallas at Toyota Stadium without him will be a tall task but with the Timbers’ talent and depth, not an impossible one.