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Three Good Questions for: Portland Timbers’ attacker Diego Valeri

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PORTLAND, Ore. — With one late pass on Saturday, Diego Valeri showed the Jeld-Wen faithful why the Timbers front office chose him over Mix Diskerud. Valeri’s a player they can build an attack around.

On a bouncing ball out of Portland’s end, Valeri – with his back to his attacking half – hit a diagonal ball beyond a high line to the left flank, a pass that put José Valencia behind the AIK defense 40 yards from goal. He never even turned around, just swinging his right leg onto a ball that landed perfectly in Valencia’s path.

Were it not for a bad touch from the young Colombian, the pass would have delivered a win for Portland, Valeri turning an innocuous clearance into a potentially game-breaking play. It was almost Riquelme-esque.

Thus far this preseason, it’s the little things Valeri’s offered that have proved most valuable. In a Caleb Porter attack where movement and tempo will be important, Valeri’s the orchestrator, doing his best Mesut Ozil impression while Darlington Nagbe’s freed up to pursue goals.

A better, more MLS-centric comparison would be Javier Morales, a man who helped convince the long-time Lanus star to bring his family north. If Valeri proves to be another Morales, Portland will have made the league’s best offseason acquisition.

Here are ProSoccerTalk’s three questions for the Timbers’ new Designated Player, somebody who has picked up a surprising amount of English in his brief time in the States:

What has been your first impression of Major League Soccer?

My first impression is that the league is good. It’s very good. This club is great, and the fans are amazing. I think that we are going to have a good year.

Before coming, I talked with Javi Morales, and he told me this country is amazing, and MLS is better than five years ago. He gave me reasons [to make the move]. Javi told me there’s a lot up here to enjoy, and that I’d enjoy playing [in MLS].

Why did you choose to come to MLS at this point in your career? In your life?

For my family, my wife, it’s a great opportunity. And I’ve always wanted to come [to the United States].

When Portland approached me, I thought ‘for me, this is a great opportunity.’ And I thought, ‘Yes. I’m going.’

(On quality of life:)

It is very important. I have a daughter. She’s four years old, so it’s important. The quality of life in the United States is amazing.

It’s a very good experience for us. [My family] is very happy.

If you could have one player from the Argentine Primera come to MLS, who would it be?

Oh, there are so many players. The Argentine league is very good. It’s very competitive. It’s a top-level league. A lot of players could come here and play well.

[Juan Roman] Riquelme, maybe. He’s the best in Argentina. He’s so good. He would be a huge star in MLS.

Every team in MLS would love to have Riquelme, but in luring the 26-year-old Valeri north, the Timbers have added a player who can assume a Riquelme-esque role.

If Valeri proves a difference-maker as Portland’s trequartista, Nagbe and Ryan Johnson will see their goal totals spike. And Portland could still be playing come November.

Premier League Preview: Stoke City vs. Manchester United

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02:  Paul Pogba of Manchester United (L) shoots while Erik Pieters of Stoke City (R) attempts to block the shot during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Stoke City at Old Trafford on October 2, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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  • Man Utd leads all-time 43W-34D-28L
  • Clubs even in last six (2-2-2)
  • Red Devils unbeaten in 16
  • Stoke winners of two-straight

After wins over Sunderland and Watford, Stoke City gets a higher class of opponent on Saturday at the Britannia Stadium (Watch live at 10 a.m. EDT on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Fortunately for Stoke, it’s had some success against Manchester United in recent years.

Stoke and United drew 1-1 at Old Trafford on Oct. 2, though Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils are flying now. United is hard to break down, and arguably deserved better than the 1-1 draw it earned versus Liverpool last weekend.

Stoke is now 11 points clear of the drop zone, and a win could raise its status to closer to the Top Five than Bottom Three. United, meanwhile, wants three points that would move it to precipice of the Top Four.

 

What they’re saying

Stoke City’s Glenn Whelan on facing United“There has been a wind of change there and the supporters seem a lot happier now and you get the sense that they are together as a group now. You only have to look at the players within the squad, and even the ones who are leaving, to see how much strength in depth they have there.”

Jose Mourinho praises newly-extended Antonio Valencia“I don’t think it is a reward, I don’t see it in this perspective. I just think he is the best right-back you can have. There is no better right-back in football. It is just for us to keep the best. I don’t think it is a reward. It is a privilege for us to have such a good player and such a good man.”

Prediction

United gets it done, only barely. Stoke will put up a brave battle for boss Mark Hughes, but there are too many weapons to suppress. United, 1-0.

AFCON wrap: Results keep Group C undecided

Ivory Coast's Wilfried Bony controls the ball on his head during their training session at the Stade Akoakam, Oyem, Gabon, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, ahead of their African Cup of Nations Group C soccer match against Congo. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
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Like Group A, Group C in the Africa Cup of Nations has very little decided ahead of the final group stage match.

[ MORE: Guardiola “said goodbye to title” ]

Ivory Coast 2-2 DR Congo

A thrilling first half had DR Congo leading 1-0 and 2-1, with only Wilfried Bony netting for the Ivory Coast. Les Elephants grabbed a draw through Serey Die’s 67th minute goal.

DR Congo now leads the group and is primed to advance with a result against Togo or a Morocco loss or draw against Ivory Coast.

Morocco 3-1 Togo

Mathieu Dossevi gave Togo a surprise fifth minute lead lead, but Aziz Bouhaddouz kickstarted the Moroccan attack to plug the victors into Group C’s second spot ahead of a Jan. 24 showdown with Ivory Coast.

Saturday’s matches

Ghana vs. Mali — 11 a.m. ET
Egypt vs. Uganda — 2 p.m. ET

Premier League Preview: Liverpool vs. Swansea City

SWANSEA, WALES - MAY 01:  Jefferson Montero of Swansea City is challenged by Nathaniel Clyne of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Liverpool at The Liberty Stadium on May 1, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)
Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images
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  • Liverpool leads all-time 22W-8D-10L
  • Swans lost five-straight at Anfield
  • Reds unbeaten in 7 PL matches

One of the Premier League’s top attacks hosts the division’s leakiest defense, as Liverpool may be licking its chops ahead of a visit from struggling Swansea City on Saturday (Watch live at 7:30 a.m. EDT on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Liverpool has drawn at Sunderland and Manchester United in its last two Premier League outings, and sits seven points back of leaders Chelsea.

Swansea City has allowed multiple goals in five of six PL matches since beating Sunderland 3-0 on Dec. 10. It’s no surprise that they’ve lost those five (the sixth being a 2-1 win at struggling Crystal Palace).

What they’re saying

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp on the match“We’re really looking forward to this game. I don’t know when it happened but in England every game now is like a final. Swansea are trying to survive. I don’t know when the title run-in will start, maybe now and we’re in the race. I hope for a special atmosphere tomorrow.”

Swansea City back Federico Fernandez on Liverpool“They are a team that is very strong going forward and that is shown by the number of goals they have scored. If you lose a little bit of focus against these teams then they have the players that will punish you every time. But it’s not only defending strongly when they are attacking, it is also how we keep hold of the ball and how we use it when in possession.”

Prediction

Swansea boss Paul Clement has his hands full, and is grabbing reinforcements in the transfer window (Luciano Narsingh, Martin Olsson, Tom Carroll). That won’t be enough to handle what Liverpool will dish out Saturday, as the Reds break free with a 3-0 win.

Saints’ Fonte moves to West Ham for $10 million

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West Ham has been linked with big name strikers since the summer, but the Irons’ big January transfer to date is a center back.

EURO champion and Southampton mainstay Jose Fonte is moving to London.

[ MORE: West Brom finally sells Berahino ]

Fonte, 33, makes an approximately $10 million move from the South Coast, where the Portuguese back will better Slaven Bilic‘s back line while forcing Southampton to find an answer alongside Virgil Van Dijk.

It’s been a strange trip to London for Fonte and Southampton, detailed by our own Joe Prince-Wright here. Fonte joined Saints during the 2009-10 season, and became a cult hero at St. Mary’s in helping the club move from League One to the Europa League in just over a half-decade.

Something won’t feel right about seeing Fonte in claret and blue, and Saints host West Ham on Feb. 4. Should be quite interesting.