Growing up as a sports fan in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve become somewhat accustomed to experiencing gut-wrenching, season-defining moments. Russell Wilson’s interception at the end of Super Bowl XLIX, a strong Trail Blazers squad losing Jusuf Nurkic to a broken leg weeks before they looked primed to make a deep playoff run, and the Timbers falling to Atlanta United in the 2018 MLS Cup.
But as terrible as all of those moments were, none of them made me quite as sad as watching the Portland Timbers lose MLS Cup at home last weekend. That’s partially because I was fortunate enough to actually be at Providence Park for the game, and it’s partially due to the fact that they lost on penalties after Felipe Mora’s dramatic equalizer. But mainly, it’s because Diego Valeri’s presumed final act as a Timber was a missed penalty that ultimately helped NYCFC to the title.
As the final penalty hit the back of the net for the visitors, all I could think, while listening to the traveling NYCFC supporters celebrate in a deflated Providence Park, was “that’s not how this is supposed to end - not for the club, nor for the player who has done so much for it.” How could the soccer gods write such a cruel ending for one of, if not the most, influential sportsmen in Portland history?
But as devastating as the miss and ensuing moments were, I think it’s important to share what I realized as I sat silently in the press box: It would be nothing short of a disservice to Valeri’s legacy to dwell on the penalty, because for the club, for the city, and for us fans, he has been so much more than that.
When asked about reflecting on the legacy of Valeri, Gio gets a little choked up. "He made the Portland Timbers be what it is." #RCTID— Sam Svilar (@sammich923) December 11, 2021
Over his nine years with the Timbers, Valeri has become the club’s record goalscorer (100) and assister (78), holds the record for second-most appearances for the club (309) behind only Diego Chara, and holds the record for most playoff appearances (22), goals (6), and assists (8) in club history.
But ranking above all of the stats are the incredible memories Valeri has gifted Timbers fans. Moments like scoring the fastest goal in MLS Cup history after just 27 seconds in 2015, joining Bill Walton as just the second professional athlete in Portland sports history to win a league MVP award, becoming the club’s fourth captain in the MLS era in 2018, and helping lead the team to win the MLS is Back Tournament title last year.
Valeri has also established himself as one of the most prominent and widely respected members of Portland’s community by engaging in countless Stand Together events, fundraisers, and charities. He also championed the Portland Thorns and women’s soccer as a whole with his daughter Connie throughout his time in Portland. I think that’s what I will most fondly remember about Valeri, just how much he embraced being a member of the Timbers and the city of Portland as a whole.
So to Diego, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for your goals, thank you for your passion, and thank you for loving this city, this team, and the culture surrounding it all. This club wouldn’t be anything close to what it is today without your contributions. And if this is the end, the kid standing next to you in that picture couldn’t have asked for a better role model.