When it comes to Major League Soccer, there’s plenty that one can accomplish. In reality, however, there are only a select few who are good enough to peak in those accomplishments. There are plenty of individual accolades, such as the Golden Boot and MVP, that celebrate the class of the singular player. There are plenty of team achievements, such as winning the Supporter’s Shield or the MLS Cup. But in the end, there are only so many players capable of doing these things.
Diego Valeri is one of those people. Since joining the Portland Timbers in 2013, the Argentine midfielder has pretty much earned almost all the recognition one could ask for in a career: He’s an MVP winner, an MLS Cup champion, and an icon in Portland. And his inclusion into the The 25 Greatest list just cements his status as not just a Portland legend, but an MLS legend.
“It’s hard to compare it,” Valeri said about how the honor weighs up to other accolades. “It’s probably bigger because this honor is about so many years, so many players, and the impact they could have on their clubs and in the league ... Its’ a huge honor for me. It’s a big satisfaction, but I humbly receive it; and for me, it is at the top of the achievements.”
When you’ve been at the top, you know when something feels like a big deal, and for Valeri this felt like a great honor. He’s been an integral part of Timbers’ history ever since joining from Lanus back in 2013. We could spend all day listing every amazing stat El Maestro has accumulated over the years: The franchise leader in goals and assists, the third player in league history with 80 goals and 80 assists, the fourth MLS player with 7+ assists in eight straight seasons — and the list goes on and on.
What’s weird to think about is that there was chatter last season about whether or not Valeri would even be a part of this club in 2020. It’s something that feels like it was ages ago, even though it happened just last season. When he and the club came to an agreement on his return, he tried to show how grateful he was for the opportunity on the field, giving back how he knows best after a difficult 2019.
“I tried to show that happiness of the decision we all made playing soccer, which is my best way, the best way that I can give back something to them,” Valeri said. “It was a tough year, but at the end it was very good for us and for me to get a clear understanding of the motivations that I had in this part of my career.”
Portland is surely thankful that he came back, especially after what he’s helped them accomplish just in 2020. He was tied for the team lead in goals and assists throughout the regular season, and he was the prime engine for an offense that was without Sebastian Blanco for most of the regular season. The attack was potent throughout the season for Portland — and Valeri played a significant role in that.
Thinking about what the future holds for Diego Valeri and the Portland Timbers is an interesting prospect. He’s 34 years old. He’s accomplished just about everything an individual player can in just eight seasons. There’s not really a ton more you can ask of Valeri.
But when asked about whether or not there’s been a moment during his MLS career that he can reflect on and truly say “I made it,” Valeri quickly says no. His mentality has always been, and always will be, to continue competing for as long as he possibly can. Winning an MVP, an MLS Cup, and an honor that recognizes just how vital you are to the history of MLS is all great; but for Valeri, spending too much time thinking about past accomplishments takes his focus too much off the future.
“I think that’s a mistake if you want to keep competing, performing, getting new goals; I think it’s not smart to stop and really think about it,” Valeri said. “I will say that I will leave that for my retirement. When I retire, I’m going to sit, I’m going to say ‘Okay I did gave my best, I did this, I made that,’ but ... not yet.”
In 2013, a 26-year-old No. 10 found his way to Portland as a DP to start another chapter of his career. Now he’s a one of the most celebrated players in the history of the league. He truly is El Maestro.