PORTLAND, Ore. – When Diego Valeri streaked down the middle of the Providence Park pitch in the 10th minute on Saturday night against Chivas USA, there was almost an expectation that something exceptional was about to happen.
Give the Portland Timbers Argentine playmaker that much time and space, and he’s proven over the past season-and-a-half in the Rose City that the exceptional is just another day at the office.
And to little surprise, what Valeri had in store on this particular moment was indeed another clip for the highlight reel, as he cut back on his defender at the top of the box, spinning him like a top, and unleashed a right-footed curler that Chivas goalkeeper Dan Kennedy might as well have just sat back and watched sail into the back of the net. Hello again, Goal of the Week nominee.
“I was just driving through the backline, and I waited for the guy that was close to me,” Valeri said of the thought process that went into the goal. “I was thinking to shoot, and I tried to get some space to shoot. I was lucky and it was a goal.”
Not only was this goal a special one for level of difficulty, but it also marked his 17th career MLS goal, tying him with Darlington Nagbe for most on the team since it joined the league in 2011.
It was his fourth goal in four games – leading to Timbers wins in three of those four games – and fifth in his last six games. His last four have all been from outside of the box.
“He’s doing his job,” said Timbers coach Caleb Porter, perhaps playing down his performance due to its frequency.
Chivas also knew exactly what to expect from Valeri, yet there was little they could do to stop him.
“He’s a great player,” Chivas head coach Wilmer Cabrera said. “Those type of players, when they have one chance, when you give them the chance, you saw what he did. We knew that. We knew that we shouldn’t be giving him that type of space.”
Valeri, who had offseason surgery for a sports hernia, had just two goals through June. But starting with a goal on the Fourth of July in a 2-2 away draw against the LA Galaxy, he’s more resembled the form that earned him the MLS Newcomer of the Year award last season.
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“I’m confident because I know that my team trusts in me and the coach trusts me and I’m trying to give the team the best I can,” Valeri said. “I’m working, and I’m happy because we won at home and that’s what is important.”
The goal also culminated quite the week for Valeri, who was selected for his first All-Star Game and set up Landon Donovan’s winning goal in last week’s 2-1 win over Bayern Munich. And with just 11 games to go before the end of the season and the team still fighting to get over that red line, Timbers fans couldn’t ask for much more than Valeri at the top of his game.
“It was a special week,” Valeri said. “Obviously, the most important thing is winning, but the All-Star Game at home was special for me, a great experience. I will rest tomorrow and maybe try to think about this week, but obviously on Monday there is work to do to.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.