Ambassador Valeri worthy MVP
While Portland Timbers fans are fretting over who their next coach might be and worrying over whether the disliked Seattle Sounders might repeat as league champions, they could smile on Monday when Diego Valeri was named MVP of the 2017 MLS season.
The recognition is no surprise, and Valeri ran away with the balloting after scoring 21 goals and adding 11 assists in his fifth season in Portland.
Those who don't follow soccer might not realize what a special ambassador Valeri is for the Timbers, for this city, and for his sport. Casual fans will recall his heads-up goal 27 seconds into the 2015 MLS Cup final at Columbus. Those who don't follow the Timbers missed Valeri's magical juggling finish in his very first game for the Timbers, the first of many wow moments courtesy of the man some call maestro.
His on-field accomplishments could fill this column. Here are just a few from 2017:
• His 21 goals are a league record for goals by a midfielder, bettering the 18 goals scored by Preki in 1996, the league's first season.
• He scored a goal against 15 of the 21 other teams in MLS, and had a goal or assist against 19 of them. Only against Atlanta and Columbus, teams the Timbers faced once, did Valeri not get onto the scoresheet.
• He scored in a league-record nine consecutive matches, two more than the previous record. He scored 10 goals during that stretch, helping the Timbers to a 5-2-2 mark July 29-Sept. 24, and made up for the injury absence of striker Fanendo Adi.
Had Valeri not come to Portland from Lanus in his native Argentina in 2013, it's hard to imagine the Timbers would have won their championship.
Valeri deserves to be celebrated for his play on the field. But he is so much more than a gifted soccer player. He was named the Timbers' Community MVP this season to recognize his contributions to disaster relief and to programs for foster children, the Children Cancer Association, Special Olympics Oregon and others.
Not counting lower-level leagues (including Division 2 Pro League 2010 MVP Ryan Pore), Valeri is the first Portland athlete to be named MVP since Bill Walton won the NBA award following the 1977-78 season.
(We could bring up a painful similarity, since that Trail Blazers' team, like these Timbers exited the playoffs quickly because they were ravaged by injuries. But this is a happy column, so please ignore this paragraph).
At 31, Valeri probably has a few more really good seasons left — years that Portland sports fans should cherish.
• As for the challenges facing the Timbers, CEO Merritt Paulson said last week the process of finding a new coach to replace Caleb Porter could take until the end of the year.
But the soccer calendar won't wait. As soon as Saturday's MLS Cup final (1 p.m., ESPN) between Seattle and Toronto ends, player movement can happen quickly. There is a four-hour window Sunday morning for clubs to complete trades. Next week includes the start of free agency and several other opportunities for players to move within MLS, plus the expansion draft for the new Los Angeles club.
Timbers President of Soccer, aka GM, Gavin Wilkinson missed Monday's MVP ceremony because he was traveling — presumably in search of players to strengthen what is a solid, but imperfect, roster. He has said his offseason priorities are to add another creative attacking player, a central defender entering his prime and a defensive midfielder to fill the void when David Guzman is away for the 2018 World Cup.
Such additions, should they come to pass, will be welcome for whoever becomes the next coach.
What we know for certain: The next Timbers coach will benefit from working with the classy Diego Valeri.