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.

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday

Barcelona GM: “We’re close to signing Coutinho, Dembele”

Philippe Coutinho
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Barcelona did not post a magical comeback versus Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup second leg, instead losing 5-1 on aggregate after Wednesday’s 2-0 loss at the Bernabeu.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

But perhaps the celebrated La Liga club has worked some wizardry in the transfer market, with not one but two big targets “close” to the Camp Nou.

Barca general manager Josep “Pep” Segura was on television after the match, and noted Spanish football expert Sid Lowe relays his words: Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho and Borussia Dortmund’s Ousmane Dembele are coming to Barca, “but until it’s closed I can’t say anything.”

Well, you just said something about it, so what gives.

Now before anyone freaks out at Anfield or Westfalenstadion, this is a man speaking after a relatively embarrassing performance for one of the biggest clubs in the world. Segura could simply be treading water for new manager Ernesto Valverde after his club was simply worked over in 120 minutes versus its El Clasico rivals.