It’s no surprise that the Portland Timbers’ mostly poor start coincides with the continued absence of two of the best players in Major League Soccer.
Will Johnson and Diego Valeri are integral parts of the league landscape, let alone the Timbers, but both have been rehabbing from surgery — Johnson for a broken leg, Valeri a torn ACL — and haven’t competed for the club since the suffering the injuries late last season.
[ MEXICO: Cuauhtemoc Blanco retires a champion ]
Now it seems both are very close to rejoining Darlington Nagbe to compose one of the most complete midfield units in the game. And Johnson is expected to play between 50-60 minutes for Timbers 2 this weekend.
Both Johnson and Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri, who is recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, practiced full out in Timbers training Wednesday for the first time.
“They are full out in training today for the first time,” Timbers coach Caleb Porter said. “That’s an exciting milestone. They’ll be in training all week.”
While Porter plans to slowly reintegrate Valeri back into the lineup by initially using him as a substitute off the bench, Johnson plays in a position at defensive midfield that is not typically subbed for during a game.
Losing either Johnson or Valeri would’ve put the Timbers in a bad spot, but missing both has been a huge problem. Nagbe has been swarmed with defensive attention, and has still put up strong performances. Free him up a bit? Look out.
Now both Valeri and Johnson were around for last year’s season-long stumbles, but it’s hard to imagine that’ll happen twice unless both return in form far below their normal standards. And with six teams making the playoffs in each conference, they just need to be a bit above average to do the trick (even in a tough Western Conference).