PORTLAND, Ore. – The result was out of reach, but the game wasn’t yet over in Toronto.
With Portland trailing 4-0 in the 89th minute of Saturday’s loss at BMO Field, Diego Chara created a turnover in the midfield and sent a ball to forward Jeremy Ebobisse. The rookie laid the ball off to Diego Valeri and wisely ran into the Toronto box, dragging along defender Eriq Zavaleta and creating a small window of space for Valeri. By the time Zavaleta made a move to block him off, it was too late – Valeri had fired the ball in to put the Timbers on the board.
The goal was nothing more than consolation for Portland, but it was a significant milestone for Valeri. The strike pushed the Designated Player into an elite club, making him the 18th player in MLS history to score 50 goals and have 50 assists. He accomplished the feat in just 139 appearances – only Jaime Moreno and Landon Donovan reached that milestone in fewer games.
For Valeri, the milestone meant little in the context of a tough result.
“Today wasn’t the best game for us,” he said after the match. “At the end of the season you can sit down and think about what you did.”
That answer was par for the course from the selfless Valeri, who – four years and one MLS Cup after joining the Timbers – remains the personification of the club’s team-first ethos. He regularly brushes aside any discussion of his own stats. Following a brace against Houston in March, Valeri would say, “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.”
While Portland took their second loss in eight matches in Toronto on Saturday, the Timbers streak of games in which they score at least one goal reached 12. Valeri is a big reason why. The 31-year-old is fourth in the league with 13 goals and his eight assists are tied for ninth in MLS.
A four-time MLS All-Star, Valeri has twice been named to the MLS Best XI and was named MVP of MLS Cup 2015. He’s impressed in all four of his complete seasons in Portland, but he’s currently on pace to have his most productive year yet, even generating some MVP talk.
“It’s an honor to see that people recognize your effort, your sacrifice and the things you do for your team,” Valeri says. “I try to give my best to the team.
“I love this team. So I want to help. If those goals and assists help the team, I’m happy.”
Timbers head coach Caleb Porter, who was sharply critical of his team after Saturday’s loss, is certainly happy with his star.
“It’s his fifth year in the league and he's maybe in his hottest run of form of his career,” Porter remarked this week. “[He continues to] rewrite and sometimes even write the record books [in Portland] and in the league.
“The best thing about him is his professionalism. It continues to show in his form, his lack of injuries, his production,” he continued. “That’s the incredible thing. We’re not surprised about the soccer. It's the fact that he's doing it every year after year for five years now, and it doesn't look like he's slowing down. I think that's a real statement of his professionalism. That's why he's able to continue to do it.”