With the match tied 1-1 as it approached the hour-mark, Valeri came through for the Timbers as he has countless times before, delivering a pinpoint shot from deep outside the penalty area that deflected off the crossbar and the back of diving Marathon goalkeeper Denovan Torres before settling into the net. While the deflection meant that it goes in the books as an own goal, that didn't stop Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese from marveling on his postgame video call at his 34-year-old attacker's latest exploits after the final whistle blew on a 2-2 draw.
"He was phenomenal today," Savarese said of Valeri. "He was very active. He found a lot of good spaces to give us the chance to be vertical in some moments. And he scored off an own goal that he was working on prior to this match. He had a feeling that he was going to have one of those goals, and it was the perfect moment. Unfortunately we couldn't hold the lead at 2-1, but Diego has showed that he's not aging and that he takes care of himself, he's a true professional.
"He's given us a lot as we saw in this match today."
It was the type of individual quality that is crucial to have in the often wild world of Concacaf Champions League, which frequently forces teams to contend with multiple variables beyond just their opponent. In Portland's case on Tuesday, it was some unforgiving heat and a less-than-ideal playing surface at Estadio Olimpico in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
"It was hot. The field was very muddy. It was not easy to play because the ball doesn't move quickly," Savarese said. "But these are the conditions that we expected. We prepared for it. We knew that these were some of the challenges we were going to face, and we dealt very well with those challenges. You can see towards the last few minutes of the game that we started giving a little bit more space than we did before and [Kervin] Arriaga found moments to dribble and become more dangerous. They found some corners, some crosses, but we dealt well.
"We're not satisfied with this result, but scoring two goals away is very important."
While Savarese was keen to highlight the positives given that his team emerged with a draw on the road amidst those circumstances, the coach also acknowledged that the pair of concessions his team yielded will need to be addressed as they look ahead to the second leg. The Timbers took the lead twice on Tuesday, first through Felipe Mora and then through Valeri's free- kick, only to relinquish it both times.
"First of all, when you go away, and especially in the situation we were in, coming out of preseason and playing against a team that's been playing their season so they're in a lot of rhythm — coming here and being able to get two goals and a tie, it's a decent result for us," Savarese said. "It puts us in a good scenario for the game we're going to play in Portland, having two away goals. So that's very important for us.
"Now we need to be pragmatic, we need to be strong, we need to make sure we utilize the good work that we did here. Nevertheless, we felt like we could have found a win. We felt that we did many good things and we approached the game in a very smart, mature way and unfortunately we were unable to get the win that we were looking for. But overall, a great game from our guys."