When the Portland Timbers lost Sebastian Blanco to a torn ACL during their match against the Seattle Sounders on Sept. 6, leaving them without the services of the MLS is Back Tournament MVP for the rest of the season, questions predictably surfaced as to how the attack would hold up without Blanco's presence, and if the Timbers could still manage to be a Western Conference contender without him.
As much as Saturday night's 6-1 blowout of the reeling San Jose Earthquakes left plenty of question marks about the hosts, Portland will hope that the match at least provided a glimpse of what the team can still do with an attack now fully led by the likes of Diego Valeri, Yimmi Chara, Jeremy Ebobisse and Jaroslaw Niezgoda.
Valeri was dominant on Saturday, putting up two goals and assist, while Yimmi Chara added a goal and an assist of his own. Following their 1-1 draw against this same Quakes side on Wednesday, the Timbers said they hoped Yimmi Chara's first MLS goal was foreshadowing an impending breakout for the DP winger, who has been working his way back from injury. The standout follow-up effort on Saturday, Valeri said, can only be a good sign.
"I'm very happy he's back on the field," Valeri said. "Obviously, sadly we have lost Seba for the rest of the season and Yimmi was injured and he's back, and we all know the quality that Yimmi has. As the team plays better, we will see the best of Yimmi. That's what I think. In the last couple of games, he has been really active, because the team is performing well. It makes me happy, obviously when you are new in a team, you need to integrate, you need time to adapt and the whole team is helping Yimmi to be happy on the field, and he's happy on the field he will perform and score goals and create chances and we'll see the best of him. So I'm very happy about it."
Valeri is another huge part of that equation.
Now 34, the 2017 league MVP isn't going to be playing 90 minutes every time out. But in his minutes this season, he's done nothing but produce like he always has. Saturday's explosive effort brings him up to six goals and five assists in 11 games, with Portland head coach Gio Savarese raving postgame about his ageless midfielder.
"I think we've seen a Diego that still has the capability to be able to play at the highest level," Savarese said. "His movements are very sharp, his quality is still intact and he's taking care of himself in the best possible way to provide these types of performances. ... I think there's a lot of positives beside the three points, beside the result. I think individual performances were great and Valeri had a tremendous performance today. His fluidity, his movements, were part of the good movements that everybody had today."
Of course, the Timbers know they won't be hanging six on the scoreboard every time out. Nonetheless, one of the things Savarese said he was most pleased with was how his team executed the changes he made to the gameplan after Wednesday's draw, pointing to the movement of his attackers as a point of improvement that he hopes can be transferred over from the match.
"San Jose played the same the other day as they did today. This is their style of play," Savarese said. "It's very genuine, it's something you have to make sure you do things the right way if you want to find space, otherwise it becomes difficult because they won't allow it, they pressure you everywhere. It's tough, but what we were able to do well today that we didn't do as well the other day, today we had patience to build up, move players a little bit higher, make sure we find more space in the build-up, find the right moment to get one of our players free to find space.
"The movements we had up top were excellent. The different things that we ask the players to do, they did and we found good moments to be able to generate opportunities and today we were sharper to be able to put the ball in the back of the net, and it was a very strong win."