Strengthened back line helps Timbers make up lost ground

Portland Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri struggled a bit during the early stages of the 2014 MLS season.

While he never made excuses, it seemed obvious Valeri was still feeling the effects from the offseason sports hernia surgery he underwent.

Those effects are gone. Valeri has been playing brilliantly over the Timbers’ last several matches, pushing Portland in its bid to overcome a slow start and make the Western Conference playoffs.

Valeri has scored a goal in Portland’s last four MLS matches, and he has five goals in the last six matches. He also has had a goal or an assist in the Timbers’ last 11 matches.

“I’m confident because I know that my team trusts in me,” Valeri says. “The coach trusts in me, and I’m trying to give the team all I can.”

As if all that was not enough, Valeri also assisted Landon Donovan’s match-winning goal last week in the MLS All-Star Game to help the MLS to a 2-1 victory over Bayern Munich at Providence Park.

“It was a special week,” Valeri said, after the Timbers’ 2-0 home win over Chivas USA last Saturday. “We needed that,” Valeri says. “The All-Star Game, at home, that was special for me, and we won, too. It was a very good experience.”

n Striker Rodney Wallace scored his first goal for the Timbers on Saturday after missing most of the season with a knee injury he suffered last year.

“It was something special tonight, for sure,” Wallace said, after the Chivas match. “I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time. Been putting in the work, day in, day out, so it’s a true testament to the hard work I’ve been putting in. But, at the end of the day, we got the three points, and that’s what matters.”

n Wallace’s goal was not nearly as impressive as the pass he got from striker Fanendo Adi. The Nigerian, acquired by Portland in midseason, has four goals and three assists in 13 appearances.

“I’m very comfortable,” Adi says. “I’m still learning from the guys, but it’s just football. You’ve got to fight and learn every day. That’s what we’re doing as a team. It’s not just about one player. It’s about the front four guys trying to understand each other.”

n The Timbers’ back line has dramatically improved with the addition of defender Liam Ridgewell, who came to Portland after 11 seasons in the English Premier League.

“We’ve been working really hard on it since I’ve been here, and I think the boys have been doing it already this season,” Ridgewell says of the rhythm of the Timbers’ defense. “It’s just jelling together, and over the past month, month and a half, it’s gotten stronger, and hopefully we’ll go on to get more clean sheets.”

n Portland also got a nice performance on the back line against Chivas USA from Norberto Paparatto, who has played in only eight matches this


“Paparatto’s been injured, so that’s been a big part of it,” Timbers coach Caleb Porter says of the Argentinian’s limited playing time. “He’s had to come out of multiple games. He struggled with an ankle injury for quite awhile. Finally, he’s fit and healthy. We threw him into the fire a little bit in the beginning of the year, and he’s adjusted to a lot of things, new teammates, new coaches, English, everything. It was a tough transition.”

n If the back line can continue playing well, Porter sees the Timbers (7-7-9, 30 points) gaining three points regularly the rest of the season, which they will need to do if they hope to make up the ground they have lost and move up from a tie for sixth place with the Colorado Rapids in the West.

“This team is going to find goals,” Porter says. “No doubt about it. We’ve been one of the best teams in the league on the attack this year. But we’re not going to do what we want to do this season unless we defend well.”

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