Sorry Seba: Diego Valeri beats Giovinco to win MLS MVP
Midfielder had 21 goals, 11 assists for Portland
Portland Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri has been named Major League Soccer's Most Valuable Player.
The 31-year-old native of Argentina had 21 goals and 11 assists this season for Portland, which finished atop the Western Conference.
He is the first midfielder in league history with 20 or more goals in a single season and just the second player with at least 20 goals and 10 assists in a single season. His 32 combined goals and assists rank fifth in MLS history.
"Since I arrived here I wanted to make an impact on the league and my club, and that's made me happy," he said. "Any reward is part of that. That's been important for me."
He was named the league's Landon Donovan MVP on Monday by vote of the league's club managers, media members and current players. The other nominees included Atlanta's Miguel Almiron, Toronto's Sebastian Giovinco, NYCFC's David Villa and Chicago's Nemanja Nikolic.
"You fight hard all season, and to be named player of the year is amazing," he told The Associated Press. "You work hard for the team and to be recognized from your own people, it's awesome."
What a season for El Maestro! 🔥 <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/MLSMVP?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#MLSMVP</a> <a href="https://t.co/M1o5dNKHL7">pic.twitter.com/M1o5dNKHL7</a>—@MLS
Valeri has scored 58 goals since joining the Timbers in 2013, most for Portland since the team's inception in 1975. He also won the league's Newcomer of the Year following his first season, and was named MVP of the MLS Cup in 2015, when the Timbers defeated the Columbus Crew for the league title.
He set a new league record with a goal in nine consecutive games this season from July 29 to Sept. 24.
Well-respected by fans, players alike
Valeri's talent — as well as his humility — has endeared him to soccer fans and non-fans alike in Portland. The Timbers' accessible star is active in the community, known to pop in on rec league games to cheer — and not just for his daughter's team. He and his family helped paint meeting rooms for foster children in Beaverton, Oregon, this summer.
"Since we arrived here with my family, everyone gave us love — that's the word. Obviously from the club, the supporters, all the people of the city. A lot of people, friends we have now," he said. "That's hard to find when it's not your country. We really appreciated that. That's why it's special for us and it's our second home."
He's well-liked across the league, too. Valeri was also named the Timbers' Player of the Year by both his teammates and the supporters this year.
From <a href="https://twitter.com/FALCAO?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@FALCAO</a> to <a href="https://twitter.com/KAKA?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@KAKA</a>, a few congratulatory messages for the new <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/MLSMVP?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#MLSMVP</a>. 😁 <a href="https://t.co/e5lAeCB4JP">https://t.co/e5lAeCB4JP</a>—@MLS
Asked for his favourite moment of the season, Valeri said the finish of the regular season was best. The Timbers went 15-11-8, but got hit with a slew of injuries and fell in the two-legged conference semifinal to the Houston Dynamo.
"The end of the regular season, I think the Western Conference is really hard, and always the end of the season is an exciting moment," he said. "We had a great run and we obviously finished at the top of the table."
Currently, Portland is a team in flux. The Timbers unexpectedly parted ways last month with coach Caleb Porter after five seasons. He is the only coach Valeri has had during his tenure with the team.
Porter was named Coach of the Year for 2013, the same year that Valeri won the newcomer award. Well-respected by his players, Porter compiled a 68-50-52 record and guided the team to an MLS Cup championship in 2015.
"I met him. We ate lunch a week ago. It was a weird feeling you know, because no one expected it," Valeri said. "We had a conversation and it's understandable, it's OK. It will be hard for the team, probably. But we as players we have to keep going, and he left a good base for the future."