Portland's star Argentine attacker has been about as automatic as they come in these situations over the course of his MLS career, so it was surprising enough when he saw his first attempt saved by a diving Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei, who thought he had made a huge denial, only to see the Timbers awarded a retake for coming off his line too early. If the odds of saving the first one were long, the odds of Valeri coming up short on two straight PKs would seem to be astronomical.
As tends to be the case when it comes to Sounders-Timbers matches, the unexpected is exactly what happened. Valeri put the ensuing attempt off the post and his rebound finish was waved off, as Frei never touched it. The momentum of the match flipped entirely from there, and the Sounders wound up taking a huge 2-1 victory thanks to goals from Raul Ruidiaz and Fredy Montero that negated a late free-kick golazo from Bill Tuiloma.
"I think mentally you switch it around right away and you think: 'Well, what's the kicker going through?'" Frei said of the sequence on his postgame video call after the match. "He just missed one, he's got to take another one, so the pressure's really on him. Last PK he took he went to the right, the one before that he went to the left. I kind of wanted to sell him going to the right on the first one and then ended up going left and was able to make the save. It gets called back, I do the exact same kind of pre-play, sell that I'm going to the right, this time I do go to the right.
"Lucky I don't touch the second one, really, because otherwise it's a fair ball. So, it worked out, but it's one where you just need to forget about it, move onto the next one, hope to make it as difficult as possible for him and we were able to get out of that one."
It was part of a historic day on an individual level for the Sounders' longtime standout backstop and 2016 MLS Cup MVP, who recorded his 1,000th career MLS save in the match.
As euphoric as the result left Frei and the Sounders, Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese was left equally frustrated with the second-half sequence that saw his team miss what would have been a huge opener by a matter of inches, only to see Seattle win and convert a penalty of their own in the immediate aftermath. Still, Savarese said the result wasn't for lack of effort or intensity on the part of his team, which was playing on a short turnaround following their Concacaf Champions League defeat to Club America and is dealing with some early-season injury struggles.
"Between the injuries and all that I’m just extremely proud of my group because they gave it all the way until he end," Savarese said. "And then I think sometimes you have days in which you don’t get something in your favor that you’re supposed to get or they’re given against you when those things shouldn’t be given away. But you have to manage that because it’s part of the game as well and people can make mistakes and you have to just do your job on the field. And unfortunately the score doesn’t show what we gave to the game because my team today played very well and deserve for sure more than what we had."
It was certainly an example of how small the margins can be in this sport, but Frei said his team isn't questioning the three road points in a rivalry match where being the away side is always a difficult proposition.
Either way, the victory allows Seattle to retain its positive early-season momentum, which has seen the club win three out of its first four games.
"You're going to have your ups and downs every season, but why not start on an up?" Frei said. "Quite a few challenges that we've already faced, and this was another one. But I think, especially if you can overcome those difficult challenges, this is where you grow the most as a team and you gain the most confidence. I think this spell will be huge when we are going to be in a dark hole that we can look back at this and say, 'Look, we've done things, we have quality.'
"So far it's been great, but we're going to try and extend this as long as we can because we're feeling good and we have guys like [Montero] coming in and contributing, so I'm really happy, this is a big deal to come down to your arch-rivals' home and get a win, it's massive."