MLS This Week: Valeri Guiding Portland Up the Table

By ANNE M. PETERSON, AP Sports Writer

Diego Valeri is on a tear, with goals in six straight games for the Portland Timbers.

That’s the longest scoring streak in Major League Soccer this season, and one short of the league record. And it’s helped propel the Timbers up the standings in the West.

Valeri also has 53 career goals for Portland, a team record across all eras.
Always humble, the Argentine playmaker known as El Maestro credits his team with his latest success.

“It’s a team effort all the time, it’s a team sport,” he said. “If you individually get success, it’s about the team, it’s about the teamwork.”

In his fifth season in Portland, Valeri has endeared himself to soccer fans and non-fans alike. 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 kids in Beaverton, Oregon, earlier this summer.

“When you come from other places of the world, you always need people to help you adapt and make you feel good,” he said. “Most everybody did that.

The whole organization and the club, and the city, helped me and helped my family to adapt. And I will be always very thankful for that.”

Valeri is having arguably his best season with the Timbers, with 16 goals to tie him for the single-season franchise record. Teammate Fanendo Adi reached 16 in the past two seasons.

His 16 goals also tie him with Chicago’s Nemanja Nikolic for second in the league behind NYCFC’s David Villa, who currently has 19.

Valeri, 31, is the 18th player in MLS history — and first for the Timbers — to reach 50 goals and 50 assists.

“It’s an honor. To me, most importantly, the numbers reflect that we have a (good) team. That’s the most important for me,” Valeri said. “And it’s the most important part of the year, so I’m thinking more about that, to be honest, than thinking about numbers. And it made me feel good.”

Valeri scored his latest goal in a 1-1 draw with the rival Sounders on Sunday night for the Timbers’ first point in Seattle since 2013. Portland (11-9-8) has lost just once in its past seven MLS games, moving the team to second place in the Western Conference behind Seattle.

The Timbers have the weekend off, resuming play on Sept. 9 against NYCFC.

GAME OF THE WEEK: There’s just a limited schedule of four games this weekend because of World Cup qualifying, so the Game of the Week is the big match between the United States and Costa Rica on Friday night at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey.

Since Bruce Arena took over the team, the U.S. has gone 2-0-2 in qualifying and jumped into to third place in the six-team Final Round group. The United States has qualified for the last seven World Cups.

The Americans play Honduras at San Pedro Sula on Sept. 5 before facing Panama on Oct. 6 in Orlando, Florida. The team visits Trinidad and Tobago on Oct. 10 to finish out the round.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Toronto FC’s Sebastian Giovinco was named league Player of the Week after a trio of goals for the East’s first-place Reds.

Giovinco had a goal in a 3-0 Toronto victory over the Philadelphia Union then added two more in a 3-1 win on the road against Montreal. He now has 15 goals this season.

The Reds are unbeaten in nine straight games to sit atop the table in the East at 16-3-8.

Giovinco scored from direct free kicks in both matches last week. He’s now scored directly from a free kick 12 times in his three league seasons, most of any player in MLS history.

NATIONAL TEAM CALL-UPS: A record 89 players from Major League Soccer have been called up to national teams for international play, many for the latest round of World Cup qualifying. Arena named 18 league players to the U.S. national team.

The biggest call up was David Villa for Spain. The NYCFC star striker was a surprise name added by coach Julen Lopetegui for a crucial World Cup qualifier against Italy on Saturday.

It’s been three years since Villa — who played for his country in the last three World Cups — was last called up.

“I’ve always said that I remained hopeful of returning,” Villa told The Associated Press at Spain’s training center in Madrid. “But I was realistic and I knew that it would be difficult considering all the quality forwards that were available to play for Spain.”

Villa has 97 international appearances and is Spain’s all-time leading scorer with 59 goals. His last game with Spain was at the 2014 World Cup, when the team was eliminated after disappointing performances in the group stage.
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Sports Writer Tales Azzoni in Spain contributed to this report.
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Follow Anne M. Peterson at http://www.Twitter.com/anniempeterson

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