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.