Diego Valeri's two goals keep Portland alive, earn top MLS Week 31 billing

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They weren’t the most glamorous goals Diego Valeri has ever scored, but the Argentine added two more in a 3-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes on Wednesday. His contributions in important matches have him as a dark-horse MVP candidate, depending on the Portland Timbers’ final two games of the regular season and the playoffs.

Both of his goals came in the second half. The first was a 51st-minute penalty after Rodney Wallace went down in the penalty area, and the second was a put-back on Wallace’s shot in the 73rd minute that Jon Busch palmed into his path.

Valeri actually created the second goal by driving forward with the ball at his feet after the Timbers broke up a San Jose attack on top of their own penalty area. As usual, Valeri dotted the entire field with his touches, particularly in the attacking half, and he took seven of the game’s 28 shots.

BIRD: Playoff picture clear with two games to go

For a while during his second season, it seemed Valeri had trouble finding the form that saw him named MLS Newcomer of the Year by a landslide in 2013, but Portland’s midfield maestro has regained control and is steering his team toward the playoffs.

It’s no coincidence that an upturn in the Timbers’ general play coincided with Valeri also producing more as an individual. Eight of his 11 goals on the season, including a couple stunners, have come since mid-July; Portland is 7-3-3 in the same stretch.

Valeri and 10 others comprise this week’s MLS Best XI:

Planet Fútbol MLS Best XI — Week 31


• Tyler Deric (Houston Dynamo): Deric saved a penalty from Jermain Defoe in a 1-0 midweek win over Toronto. That was far from his only save, as he was credited with six in the match, the best of which was probably his reactionary dive to push Luke Moore’s header onto the post just minutes after the penalty.

• Kofi Sarkodie (Houston Dynamo): The Akron alum assisted Giles Barnes’ goal in the win over Toronto on a long free kick out of the back. A couple minutes later, he headed a shot off the line on a corner kick.

• Nick Hagglund (Toronto FC): Hagglund made eight interceptions and eight clearances against Houston. The rookie continues to impress despite all the pressure he’s been put under at the heart of a troubled Toronto defense in his first professional season.

• Kendall Waston (Vancouver Whitecaps): Once again, the big Costa Rican prevented multiple opportunities for the opponent through his aerial prowess. His interventions in the dying minutes of a 1-0 away win over Seattle kept his team in the playoff picture.

• Sean Franklin (D.C. United): Franklin assisted two goals in D.C.’s 3-1 win over Houston on Sunday, creating three goal-scoring chances total. His five tackles and three interceptions also led the team defensively, although he also conceded the penalty that gave the Dynamo their only goal.

• Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City): Feilhaber created four goal-scoring opportunities and took three shots in a 2-0 win over the Chicago Fire. The Brazilian-born playmaker has been out of favor with the U.S. national team for a while, but his performances this season merit at least a January camp call-up.

• Dax McCarty (New York Red Bulls): McCarty received his just reward for providing the impetus in New York’s midfield in a 3-1 win over Toronto on Saturday, finding space at the back post to knock in a goal after a surging run from midfield. Besides Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill, McCarty is probably the smartest player on the team, evident in his ability to run into the box unmarked on that play.

• Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers): Valeri added two more goals, including a penalty, and created a whopping six goal-scoring opportunities in a 3-0 win over San Jose. He now has 11 goals and 14 assists, making him one of six players in the league in double-digits in both.

• Rodney Wallace (Portland Timbers): Wallace scored and completed 81 percent of his passes, including two that led directly to shots, against the Earthquakes as well as drawing a penalty. He’s scored all five of his goals this season since August, and he’s put away three in the last two games.

• Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City): With his team locked in a scoreless draw 10 minutes from time, Zusi scored and added a stoppage-time assist to lift Sporting KC to a win. His goal was one for the highlight reel, slicing through the air and inside the far post from outside the penalty area off his left foot.​

• Marco Di Vaio (Montreal Impact): Di Vaio scored his seventh and eighth goals of his final season in a 2-2 draw with New England. Both were exquisite finishes that came from his trademark just-off-the-last-defender style of play as Montreal’s No. 9.