How were the Portland Timbers so fortunate to have Diego Valeri, The reigning MLS CUP MVP, be part of their history?
It’s because the feeling is mutual.
In October of 2014, The Oregonian interviewed Valeri about his journey from Argentina, Europe, back to Argentina and finally to Portland, Oregon. When he returned to Lanus, his boyhood club in Argentina, Valeria and his wife and daughter were victims of being robbed at gunpoint when returning home one night.
The event sparked the decision for Valeri and his family to leave Argentina, perhaps for good.
Portland seemed to solidify the union. “We love Portland; we think we’ll live in Portland after I retire because this is a great city. We have lived in Spain, Portugal, Argentina, but for me, it’s the best city. We have traveled a lot in the USA, and we have seen other places. There are really nice places, but Portland is unique,” he said of his current home.
Valeri seems to be grateful for his new home, and he’s certainly been repaying Timbers’ fans for all their support and love.
Valeri is a magician. In the 2015/2016 season, Valeri accumulated a total of 84 chances created in 40 games or roughly 2.1 chances per game. The average length of his passes was 19 meters. The stats prove it; they paint they picture for us.
Diego has his niche on the field. He’s an enganche. Which is appropriate since this word comes from Argentina. You may have heard it be called “meia atacante”, or “trequartista” depending on what part of Southern America you’ve landed on. He’s a central attacking midfielder, but being an enganche is much more than that.
Being an enganche is an art. It involves a mystique; it flows, spreads and evolves. It’s an innate ability. You’re born with it.
As an enganche, you are the pivot, the creator, the playmaker. Valeri floats. He treads in between lines. Between the opposition’s midfield and defensive line. Playing off an opponent’s shoulder, allows him to float in and out of view from the defender. He gravitates towards pockets of space on the field. You either follow him, causing you to spread your defensive line, or you leave him alone to receive the ball in space for him to unlock a goal.
Portland Timbers have been incredibly successful using a lighting quick counter behind a defensive wall as tall and fortified as the Timbers Army’s beautifully passionate tifos.
Tifo is a choreography done by fans in a stadium to illustrate their support of the club and sport in general.
Diego Valeri is the spark that constitutes the quick counter that led them to the MLS Cup the previous season. When he’s able to play between the lines and influence the game with his superb technique, Valeri can provide a moment of brilliance that separates the game.
Valeri is developing a better and better understanding with his outside forwards and with a striker in Adi that is beginning to hit his potential. Diego can focus more on his offensive duties due to the freedom given to him by Chara and Nagbe. The use of all three players was a tactical decision done by Caleb Porter to give his midfield flexibility. A brilliant tactical decision that has seen Portland get the best out of their midfield three.
The scary part is, Valeri is continuing to improve at a prime age of 29. In the 2016/2017 Diego is on pace to completely rip up his impressive 2.1 chances created per match stat. Presently he is producing at an average of 3.75 chances created per match. Sure, it’s only been eight matches compared to 40 last season, but Squawka has him listed as the 3rd best midfielder in MLS.
In his niche as enganche, Portland has given a home to MLS’s best creative midfielder.
And as I write this, Diego Valeri has just magically placed a ball into the back of the net from a free kick against Toronto. “A gift from the soccer Gods, simply exquisite” –ESPN FC Game Commentator
That about sums it up.