Diego Valeri may have missed out on the start of the 2015 season as he recovered from a torn ACL suffered in the very last match of 2014, but the Maestro has been hugely influential for the Timbers since making his return and the league is recognizing him for it, nominating Valeri as one of three possible candidates to be the Comeback Player of the Year.
Valeri may not have been in the discussion for the league MVP -- even as a long shot -- like has has been in the past two years, but in his 22 games played in 2015 Valeri has put up eight assists and two goals, getting involved in almost a quarter of the Timbers' 41 goals, and created numerous chances as his partnership with Darlington Nagbe has evolved in the center of the pitch.
Up for the award alongside Valeri are Sporting Kansas City's Tim Melia and Columbus Crew SC's Wil Trapp. Melia won the starting spot in Kansas City after playing with the team as an MLS pool goalkeeper in 2014, posting eight shutouts and saving over 72% of the shots he faced, while Trapp missed a large part of 2015 dealing with a serious concussion suffered in March, only to return as a significant part of the Crew midfield as they won the second place spot in the Eastern Conference.
If Valeri were to come away with the Comeback Player of the Year, he would not be the first Timber to win it: Rodney Wallace won the award last season after returning from a torn ACL of his own -- also suffered in the last match of the season the year before -- and posting five goals in just seventeen games.
Darlington Nagbe and Nat Borchers are also potential award winners this year as the pair vie for the Sportsmanship Award with San Jose Earthquakes defender Marvell Wynne. Nagbe was fouled 87 times this season while only picking up 11 of his own. Likewise, Borchers committed only 13 fouls over the course of the season.
The Timbers' press release:
DIEGO VALERI NAMED FINALIST FOR MLS COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Nagbe, Borchers finalists for Individual Fair Play Award
PORTLAND, Ore. – Portland Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri was named a finalist for the 2015 MLS Comeback Player of the Year as Major League Soccer today announced the finalists for its 2015 league awards. Valeri joins Tim Melia (Sporting Kansas City) and Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC) as the three finalists. The winners for each award will be revealed in the coming weeks.
The finalists for each award earned the most votes in polling of current MLS players, MLS clubs and media members who regularly covered the 2015 season.
Valeri, 28, returned this season following a successful recovery after tearing his ACL in the 2014 season finale against FC Dallas on Oct. 25, 2014. Making his season debut on May 2 against Vancouver, Valeri tallied eight assists, including three game-winners, and two goals in 22 appearances (20 starts) while logging 1,713 minutes. The Argentine attacking midfielder recorded an assist in three consecutive matches from Aug. 15-30, while also recording the game-winning goal in his first start back from injury in a 2-1 win over Montreal on May 9.
Additionally, midfielder Darlington Nagbe and defender Nat Borchers were named as finalists for the 2015 MLS Individual Fair Play Award. The Fair Play Award is selected by MLS based on objective criteria such as fouls committed, cards received, games and minutes played, as well as subjective evaluation of sportsmanlike behavior.