BEAVERTON, Ore. – The Portland Timbers will be without their playmaking midfielder Diego Valeri for Sunday’s game against the San Jose Earthquakes at JELD-WEN Field (10 pm ET, watch on NBC Sports Network, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
But judging by the results after the Argentine playmaker was knocked out of last Saturday’s game against Houston when he took an elbow to the face from center back Jermaine Taylor in the 25th minute, the outlook for the Timbers may not be as dire as one would expect.
Head coach Caleb Porter adjusted to Valeri’s absence by sliding forward Darlington Nagbe to the attacking midfielder position and bringing on Kalif Alhassan at forward. The result was impressive, leading to a second-half brace from striker Ryan Johnson in the Timbers’ 2-0 victory.
“We’ll be fine,” Johnson said after Friday’s practice session at the team’s training facility. “Kalif coming in, he’s a quality player, he helped change the game last week. We have confidence going in. We scored all of our goals without Diego on the field, so we know that we can do it without him.”
Valeri did some light training work on Wednesday and Friday, but he is still undergoing the team’s concussion protocols. Porter said earlier in the week that Valeri “feels good. He wants to train. He's ready to train. He has no hangover effect from it, but we have to follow a protocol."
Porter wasn’t available to the media Friday, but Johnson confirmed that Valeri will be out.
“They don’t want to take any chances with his head, which is smart,” Johnson said.
Valeri leads the team with 19 shots taken. He has one goal, which came in the season opener March 3. Johnson said there are obvious differences between Nagbe and Valeri, but he said their objectives are the same when it comes to leading the offense.
Nagbe assisted on Johnson’s second goal, while midfielder Diego Chara set up Johnson’s first with a cross from the right flank.
“It’s all about timing with those things, and the timing is on here and it’s a good feeling because when you do make that run most likely the ball is going to be there or they’re going to try to get it there,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t really change what I do personally on the field when it comes to my runs because Darlington gave me that through ball, the same kind of ball that Diego gives me. It’s good to be surrounded by such good players. It makes life easier for me.”
And despite the small adjustments Porter has made to the lineup and formations in Portland’s last three games – going from a 4-4-2 formation in road games against Colorado and Seattle then back to a 4-3-3 at home against Houston – Johnson said their approach against San Jose will be similar to last week’s. The Timbers will face the Earthquakes in back-to-back weeks, with their next meeting coming April 21 at Buck Shaw Stadium.
“It all comes down to how good we pressure, and if they beat our pressure how good we recover from that and at the same time finish our chances,” Johnson said.
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.