Diego Valeri near 90-minutes fit, marking another milestone in return of Portland Timbers playmaker
BEAVERTON, Ore. - Diego Valeri, it turns out, has not missed a step.
The Portland Timbers playmaker, sidelined through the season's first two months while recovering from offseason knee surgery, made an immediate impact in his return to the starting lineup Saturday in his team's 2-1 victory over the Montreal Impact. His beautiful, curling strike in the 70th-minute proved the game-winner, but it more importantly signified that the Argentine midfielder appears to already be in form despite his sixth-month recovery from an ACL tear in Portland's 2014 season finale.
"Obviously, in this job, there are a lot of things that you enjoy, but I can honestly say seeing your players happy is one of the best parts of it," Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said of Valeri's goal after Tuesday's training session at the team facility. "Especially when a guy has gone through what he's gone through in the last six months and how hard he's worked, to see him come in and get that goal is a really good feeling."
A minute after his goal, an MLS Goal of the Week nominee, Valeri's day was over, wrapping the return of Portland's most important player in a tidy bow. Porter said it was all part of the plan.
"The bottom-line most minutes that we were supposed to give him was 70, and I got him 71," Porter said with a laugh. "So it worked out OK because we were able to get some fresh legs at the end of a game and lock the game down defensively as well."
And with the successful shift under his belt, and with Valeri no worse for the wear in his return to training Tuesday, Porter said he's ready to go for a full 90 - or at least close to it - with their next match gym vests asos coming on the road Saturday against the Houston Dynamo (8:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE).
"I won't say full 90 but close for sure," Porter said.
Valeri went 38 minutes in his first game back, a scoreless draw May 2 against the Vancouver Whitecaps. And the impact of his return on the group - even just to training - can't be understated. Having him 90-minutes fit is, obviously, an even bigger boost.
"He's a special player," Timbers center back Nat Borchers said. "And you could see it the very first day he came back into training. He's kind of like instant offense for us, and his ability to get the ball and make defenses have to make difficult decisions just opens up so much space for us."
Valeri's health - and the team success that rides on it - was underscored when he ran over to team trainers Nik Wald and Nick Milonas after he scored his goal and delivered big hugs to both men. That symbolism wasn't lost on Porter.
"It shows the type of relationship he's built with the staff and Nik and Nick," Porter said. "They worked tirelessly behind the scenes, they don't get talked about much, so for me that was really kind of a nice tribute to the work those two guys have put in to help Valeri get back."
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.