The Portland Timbers have burst out of the gate to start the 2017 Major League Soccer season, keeping their record perfect through three games and scoring goals in bunches to claim an early lead atop the Supporters’ Shield standings.
At the heart of the Timbers’ offensive explosion is “the Maestro”, Diego Valeri. Valeri has been the focal point of the Timbers’ attack since joining the side in 2013, but this year makes for his hottest start to date, notching four goals and two assists thus far, including a brace in Saturday’s 4-2 win over the Houston Dynamo.
Valeri was quick to demur after Saturday’s match, instead turning the focus toward the contributions of his teammates and the Timbers' collective success.
“I’ll be focusing on the next game against Columbus to help the team, to improve my role for what the team needs,” Valeri said. “The numbers? I don’t think about that. I think about the team and the way we want to win and how can I help to do that.”
But it is not just about the numbers that Valeri is putting up; it is about how he is putting them up. Coming into 2017, Valeri – who is now fourth on the Timbers’ all-time scoring list with 41 goals – had never scored a header for the side; now, of Valeri’s four goals to start the season, two have come with his head.
“I am so bad with [my head],” said Valeri, smiling. “But I am happy because I helped the team and overall the team had a great second half.”
For left back Zarek Valentin, who provided the cross Valeri headed home against Houston, having a player like Valeri on the pitch provides a pressure release valve.
“When you cross you want to put it in a dangerous area because then things can happen,” Valentin said. “When you have guys like Diego and [Fanendo Adi] who can get on the end of balls, they can make you look pretty good at times. I appreciate him scoring. It took the game back into our hands … Day in and day out, we try to get better and Diego had a hell of a finish.”
That Valeri, 30, is still adding to his arsenal after four years with the Timbers – including two All-Star appearances and a 2015 MLS Cup MVP – should worry teams in the Western Conference.
For the Maestro, however, it really is not about how the ball gets in the back of the net, but coming away from the match with a full result.
“It feels really good,” Valeri said. “It feels good to score and to help the team, because today wasn’t an easy game. And we won the game.”