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Diego Valeri’s Back: What does it mean for the Portland Timbers?

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

 

In the 52nd minute of Saturday’s match between Portland and Vancouver, the Timbers faithful let loose a roar that hasn’t been heard in Providence Park this season. Diego Valeri, who led the Timbers in both goals and assists last year, was preparing to make his first appearance of the season, and hopefully lift a team that has been mostly listless this season. 

The 51 minutes Portland and Vancouver played prior to Valeri’s entry into the match were a perfect microcosm of the Timbers’ season thus far; a defense that nullified a very potent Vancouver attack while offensively, almost entirely reliant on Darlington Nagbe’s ability to create. Unfortunately, Nagbe was unable to help his own cause against Vancouver, as he took Portland’s first penalty kick of the season and planted it firmly off the post, in what turned out to be the best opportunity for either team in the match.  

While Nagbe has performed admirably in the face of near-constant double and triple teams this season, he has had little-to-no help from the rest of Portland’s attacking players. Whether it be Fanendo Adi’s puzzling inability to finish, Rodney Wallace’s errant shots, or Maximilliano Uruti’s seeming invisibility, every Portland attacker outside of Nagbe has struggled mightily this season. As a result, the Timbers have scored 7 total goals in 9 games, leading to a thoroughly underwhelming .77 goals per game. Even while missing Valeri, Portland should have been able to do more on the attack with the way chances and attention that Nagbe has created while keying the offense.  

Unfortunately, Valeri’s return did not have a storybook ending. He was obviously rusty, missing on a couple opportunities that he ordinarily would have at least forced the goalkeeper to make a save on. But even at less than 100% and working off 7 months’ worth of rust, it was immediately obvious what having Valeri in the lineup does to Portland’s spacing and attacking creativity. Up until Valeri’s entrance into the game, every Portland opponent has had essentially the same defensive game plan – take away Nagbe’s space and time and make one of the other Portland attackers beat you. Thus far this season, the Timbers have been unable to take advantage of all the extra attention focused on one player.

But with Valeri soon set to resume his full-time role as the key to Portland’s attack, Nagbe now has someone to play off of who he can rely on. Even in his first appearance, Valeri’s 40 minutes on the field created some of the best and most creative attacking play the Timbers have seen this season. Vancouver was no longer able to solely focus on Nagbe, which opened up space for his runs, which opens up space in more dangerous spots for everyone else.  Valeri’s vision and passing were also on full display early, with backheels and one-touch passes that no one else on the Portland roster would even be able to see, much less complete. 

Valeri’s return to the lineup will not immediately fix all of the Timbers’ woes; he cannot magically force Adi or Uruti to finish the chances they are given, and cannot make Rodney Wallace, Ishmael Yartey, and Gastón Fernández more dangerous with their dribbles and passing. But what Valeri’s return does do is give the Timbers a desperately-needed second (or first) attacking option; teams can no longer focus entirely on taking away Nagbe’s dribbles and penetrating moves and expect Portland’s attack to wither as a result. 

After the game, Caleb Porter said that he felt his team “played well” and “played to win,” a common theme from the Timbers coach thus far this season. Unfortunately, it has yet to reflect on the scoreboard or in the standings. With Diego Valeri’s return and Darlington Nagbe playing at a high level, the Timbers can hopefully turn “playing well” into “winning games.”

GoLocalPDX partner Oregon Sports News: Since 2011, Oregon Sports News has provided entertaining, hard-hitting local sports news & commentary every weekday. To read more from this author, check out Oregon Sports News by clicking here.

 

Related Slideshow: Oregon’s Most Devastating Sports Injuries

Here is GoLocalPDX's list of Oregon's most devastating injuries that have occured within the past 10 years.

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