Diego Valeri was gifted a piece of history Saturday afternoon.
While Andrea Pirlo complained, Valeri ran into the unoccupied space inside the New York City FC area and waited for Darren Mattocks to serve up the opportunity for him to score in a seventh consecutive game. With a calm side-footed finish, Valeri tied the MLS record for most consecutive games with a goal. His 17th goal of the season was the difference for the Portland Timbers who moved atop the Western Conference with the 1–0 win in The Bronx.
“I’m happy to help the team to get points at this part of the season, which is the most important thing,” Valeri said. “I’m happy with the position we are in the table because we want to be in the playoffs and that is our goal. I’m happy about the individual performance but more about the collective performance.”
The Timbers have only lost twice since the beginning of July and are managing to keep their form despite injuries to Fanendo Adi, Jake Gleeson and Liam Ridgewell. Mattocks replaced Adi at center forward and the two were able to pester NYCFC’s efforts to build from the back and find space to create chances on the counter. Mattocks said he’s been able to develop a strong understanding of where to find Valeri on the field.
“He's always in the right spot in the right time,” Mattocks said. “For someone like who runs the channels and gets in behind, playing with someone like him means he’s in the right place for me to pick him out and get points for the team.”
Valeri’s scoring run could not come at a better time for the Timbers who have only one loss in their last eight games. Head coach Caleb Porter attributed the form to the team’s balance and versatility, especially in midfield. Porter said the Timbers felt comfortable playing at Yankee Stadium since the pitch at Providence Park is narrow and it allowed them to close down on NYCFC in midfield and find space on the counter. At the heart of that is Valeri.
“Look at how he’s working, and the ground he covered today on both of sides of the ball,” Porter said, “Obviously, if you’re going to press, you need the ten to start that pressure. The nine and the ten are the first line of defense. He’s buzzing around and our team is playing aggressive and we’re able to get on the front foot and get in their half and control games like we’ve been doing in this run of form that we’re having then he comes to life. When he’s in the final third, I don’t know if there’s a better guy in the league.”