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How Should the Portland Timbers Use a Healthy Diego Valeri?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

 

What a difference one month can make. On May 23rd, the Portland Timbers sat at the bottom of the Western Conference standings after back-to-back losses to Houston and Toronto. Four weeks and four consecutive wins later, those same Timbers now find themselves in third place in the west, and only four points behind rival Seattle Sounders for the top spot after Saturday's 2-0 defeat of the Houston Dynamo in the friendly confines of Providence Park. 

Houston looked to have struck first off a corner in the 15th minute when Raul Rodriguez cooly hit the  past Adam Kwarasey, but the referee's whistle blew for a very questionable obstruction call and the Timbers were saved from the early deficit. Portland then struck in the 34th minute after Maximiliano Urruti headed home a perfect free kick from Jorge Villafaña. Gastón Fernández added a second for Portland from the penalty spot in the 61st minute, creating the final scoreline of 2-0.

It was entirely appropriate that Fernández and Urruti were the two goal scorers for the Timbers, as it was their insertion into the starting lineup against D.C. United that sparked the winning streak that is now the longest in the Timbers' MLS history. In each of their last three games, Portland has scored two goals; a number the Timbers failed to reach in 10 out of their first 13 games this season. With the kind of defense Kawarsey and his defenders have been playing all year long combined with the sudden spark found by the Timbers attack, Portland is finally starting to resemble the team that Caleb Porter believed he could have when the season began. 

But Coach Porter still has questions about his Portland squad, and there are no easy, obvious answers. First, and most importantly: what does Porter do with his lineup when Diego Valeri is fully healthy? Valeri has been battling injuries all season long, but seems to be nearly recovered from the sprained ankle that has kept him out of the last four matches. Valeri came on as a substitute in the 72nd minute for Fernández and looked fresh and crisp with his movement and passing. While Portland's attack has improved dramatically since Valeri was lost, there is no question that he remains the Timbers' most creative and technically proficient player, and needs to be in the starting lineup as soon as he is fit to do so. 

The simplest answer is the move that Caleb Porter has made in the past, and will more than likely employ again: maintain the 4-2-3-1 formation, replace Fernández with Valeri, and hope that the attack keeps right up with where it has been these last few games. Given the formation and style that Coach Porter has favored in the past, this is not only the most likely option, it's really the only realistic option. But this option also breaks up the Urruti-Fernández pairing that has had obvious chemistry and has led to chances and goals for Portland when both have, until recently, been hard to come by.

There's another move available to Porter; one that carries far more risk, but would put the Timbers' four most creative attackers on the field together: replace Rodney Wallace with Valeri. Wallace currently plays a left midfield/left wing position in Porter's offense, and his primary role is to use his speed to beat defenders on the flanks and whip balls in on the cross. While Valeri possesses nowhere near the speed of a Wallace, his creativity and skill on the ball could more than make up for that loss. With this change, the Timbers would field a starting attacking lineup of  Urruti, Fernández, Valeri, and Darlington Nagbe – all four more than capable of winning one-on-one battles, slotting in a creative pass, or finishing with a strike from anywhere near the box. 

This lineup would also put all three Argentines on the field together, maintaining the chemistry Urruti and Fernández obviously have while adding Valeri's prodigious skill and talent to the mixture. Additionally, this lineup would almost certainly be more free-flowing than any other Portland has deployed in the past, with all four players capable of drifting to any other position in the attack with ease. With Nagbe and Fernández remaining on the field, Portland's overall team speed would not suffer dramatically, and Villafaña has proven time and again his willingness to use his speed to push the attack from the left flank if the situation calls for it. 

A healthy Diego Valeri is, without doubt, a positive development for the Timbers and their long-term prospects for this season. But the lineup choices Coach Porter makes in choosing how best to deploy him will tell us a great deal about how he views his team and players, and whether he truly feels the Urruti/Fernández connection is one worth attempting to build on.

Portland has had a remarkable month thus far, but June's greatest challenge still lies in front of them with a double-game week coming up. The week begins on Wednesday with a road trip to Los Angeles to face the defending-champion Galaxy, and concludes four days later as the Timbers host their hated rivals from the north, Seattle Sounders, in a prime-time match-up broadcast nationally on Fox Sports. 

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.

 

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In case you've never noticed we have plenty of attractive athletes representing the state of Oregon. Here are GoLocalPDX's Top 15 in no particular order.

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Alex Morgan

Alex Morgan, 25, is a forward for the Portland Thorns. She recently signed with the club in January of 2013 after playing for the Western New York Flash and the Seattle Sounders. She rose to prominence because of her success playing for the United States women’s national soccer team. Morgan was the youngest player to represent the U.S. during the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup. She will once again represent team USA this summer as they prepare to head off to Canada for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

 

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Meyers Leonard, 23, was the 11th overall pick of the 2012 NBA Draft. Over the past few years he has been diligently working with the Portland Trailblazer’s coaching staff in order to refine his game. The Illinois alumni’s hard work has been paying off considering he’s having the best season of his career. 

 

Photo credit: Meyers Leonard's Facebook page

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Kaylyn Kyle

Kaylyn Kyle, 26, is a Canadian soccer player who currently plays for the Portland Thorns. She is also a member of the Canadian women’s national team. Kyle was part of the 2012 Canadian national team that defeated France in the bronze medal game. She is also an ambassador for, Right To Play, which is an organization dedicated to using soccer as a resource to educate and empower children from disadvantaged communities.

 

Photo credit: Kaylyn Kyle's Facebook page

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Gaston Fernandez

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Photo credit: via forums.bigsoccer.com

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Marcus Mariota, 21, is coming off one of the best seasons any Oregon Duck quarterback has ever experienced. He is the first Hawaiian-born athlete to ever win the Heisman trophy. This season he also led the Ducks to a 12-1 regular season record. Duck fans everywhere will be anxiously waiting to see where Mariota goes in this year’s NFL Draft. 

 

Photo credit: via Oregon Football's Facebook page

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Ellie Cribbins is a second year Blazer Dancer for the Portland Trailblazers. Cribbins is originally from Portland, Oregon but attended Oregon State University. This season proved to be a unique one for Cribbins since her sister also made the Blazer Dancers last August.

 

Photo credit: via Ellie Cribbin's Facebook page

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Jake Gleeson, 24, is a New Zealand born goalie that is currently playing for the Portland Timbers. He signed with the club in February of 2011. Gleeson has taken pride over the past few years of being a young player who has worked his way up the ranks. 

 

Photo credit: via solofutbol.cl

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Janie Takeda

Janie Takeda, 21, is a senior outfielder for the University of Oregon. The Dallas Charge of the National Pro Fastpitch League recently drafted her 26th overall. Takeda was also selected to play on the United States women’s national team during the 2015 summer season. She is set to graduate from the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication this spring. 

 

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Maggie Rouse, 20, is a junior cheerleader for the University of Oregon. She just completed her third year on the team. When she tried out as a freshman she never expected to make the squad. Yet, here she is two years later. She is currently majoring in Educational Foundations. 

 

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LaMarcus Aldridge

LaMarcus Aldridge, 29, is widely considered to be one of the best power-forwards in the NBA. The Texas native is averaging 23.6 points and 10.3 rebounds per game this season for the Portland Trailblazers. He is also a four-time NBA All-Star. On March 10th, 2015 Aldridge became the Trailblazers all-time leading rebounder.

 

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Devon Allen, 20, just completed his freshman year as a wide receiver for the Oregon Ducks. Not only is he the starting wide receiver for the Ducks he also runs track for the Oregon Outdoor Track and Field team. He recently earned a Gold Medal in the 110 meter hurdles during the 2014 USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Although he is recovering from a torn ACL we hope to see him back on the field during the 2015-2016 season.

 

Phot credit: University of Oregon Facebook page

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Chase De Leo

Chase De Leo, 19, currently plays center for the Portland Winterhawks. His quickness and overall creative offensive game earned him an invite to Team USA’s selection camp back in December of 2014. Of all 30 players who were invited, he was only one of 2 WHL players.

 

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Darron Thomas

Darron Thomas, 24, is a professional quarterback for the Portland Thunder of the Arena Football League. During his college days he played for the Oregon Ducks. While starting for the Ducks he led to the team to the 2011 BCS National Championship game, as well as the 2012 Rose Bowl. The Texas native recently partook in the NFL Veteran Combine with the hope of upstarting his NFL career.

 

Photo credit: Portland Thunder Facebook page

 
 

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