Diego Valeri: Replacing Jorge Villafaña is key for Portland Timbers

The MLS Cup MVP also pegs Darlington Nagbe to make a star leap to the elite level.
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Reigning MLS Cup MVP Diego Valeri of the league-champion Portland Timbers says one of the keys to repeating will be finding a way to replace left back Jorge Villafaña, who was sold to Santos Laguna and will be tougher to replace than most people imagine.

“In modern soccer, for me the outside backs are very important, the secret,” Valeri said. “Jorge got to a great level and we will miss him. But this is a good moment for him [at Santos].”

The club has brought in reinforcements, including fullbacks Chris Klute and Zarek Valentin this off-season.

As for manager Caleb Porter's move of Darlington Nagbe to a central midfield position, which was a key to Portland's run to the title, Valeri says it has transformed the way Portland plays.

“It was a big impact, not just for me but for the team,” he said. “Because he touched the ball a lot. He’s involved in the game most of the time, and when he has the ball it’s almost like nobody can steal the ball. He has rhythm, and everybody is looking to him … That’s good for the team, not just for me. I had to adapt, because he’s an attacking player, like a striker almost. I have to read him and occupy positions in the field to be more balanced.”

Is Nagbe ready to be a real star?

“That will be a process,” Valeri said. “Nobody can predict when that will happen, but I think it will happen.”