That better player was Diego Valeri, who has rewarded the Timbers faith in his abilities by jumping into MLS and immediately establishing himself as a special talent in central midfield. His presence in the middle of Porter’s 4-3-3 system helped make it click, and Valeri’s 10 goals and MLS-leading 13 assists made him the clear-cut choice for Goal USA’s MLS Newcomer of the Year.
The 27-year-old Argentinian maestro served as the perfect point of the midfield spear for Portland, with Will Johnson and Diego Chara doing the heavy lifting behind him. Valeri used his freedom to make those around him more dangerous, and showed his ability to find the net as well as no other pure midfielder in the league scored more goals than he did.
“He has really excelled in our system and Diego gives you that ability to go at a defense and create chances that helps make us that much tougher to deal with,” Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said. “He’s a guy who excels on the ball and we do a good job of getting him the ball so he can make things happen.”
“You would think he’s been playing here for years,” Will Johnson said. “It’s easy to play with someone like him because he’s always looking to attack and set somebody up with the perfect pass.”
Valeri’s immediate impact was somewhat surprising given the fact that attacking midfielders have sometimes taken longer to adjust to playing in MLS than players at other position.
“He was able to settle here pretty quickly and get comfortable living in Portland,” Porter said. “It’s been pretty incredible to see how he has adapted. You can see that he’s happy and he wants to be here.
“He originally came here on loan, and if you look at it, he’s actually been even better after we made the decision to sign him and keep him with us.”
The Timbers purchased Valeri’s contract outright on Aug. 6, signing Valeri to a new contract making him a Designated Player. All Valeri has done since that deal is generate goals. In the 11 matches he has played in since the full transfer, Valeri has compiled six goals and five assists. Those numbers are made even more impressive by the fact he has been battling a nagging groin injury that has cost him playing time down the stretch.
“He’s one of the best players in the league and I think he’s shown it all year,” Porter said. “Not only that, he’s a humble guy who cares about winning more than anything else.”
Valeri was one of several impressive newcomers to come to MLS in 013, New England defender Jose Goncalves finished second to Valeri in voting for Goal MLS Newcomer of the Year after a season that earned him Goal USA’s Defender of the Year honors. Colorado Rapids goalkeeper Clint Irwin rounded out the top three Newcomers in MLS in 2013.