Portland’s Valeri relishing MLS, SCCL tests

Diego Valeri (left) celebrates with Portland Timbers teammates after he scored against visiting Dragon in a Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League game on August 3, 2016. (Photo: Mexsport)


PORTLAND, Oregon -- The Portland Timbers will be challenged in two competitions over the coming days.

On Saturday, the defending MLS champion will host Real Salt Lake. It will then travel to Costa Rica for a vital Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League encounter on Wednesday against Saprissa.

"It's exciting," said midfielder Diego Valeri. "It's part of the season where [we] decide everything."

If the MLS playoffs were to begin today, the sixth-place Timbers (9W-8D-11L, 35 points) would secure the final Western Conference spot. The pressure is on Portland to earn three points at the expense of RSL in order to capitalize on its good home form (9-2-3), especially since it is the lone MLS side not to win on the road (0-6-8).

"The goal is the playoffs," Valeri stressed. "Now we have to think about that. We experienced last year that if you make the playoffs, anything can happen. We want to win trophies."

The Timbers finished third in the conference last season, before going on a playoff run that culminated in a 2-1 won over Columbus Crew SC in the MLS Cup final.

Advancing in the SCCL is just as important to Portland (1-0-0, 3), which missed out on a quarterfinal spot in the 2014/15 on a tiebreaker. A win at Group B leader Saprissa (1-1-0, 4) will go a long towards fulfilling that objective.

"It’s a big goal for us to [top] the group and qualify," remarked, who scored in a 2-1 win over El Salvador’s Dragon last month. "It's a good opportunity for us to make history."

A native of Argentina, Valeri played in Copa Libertadores with Lanus and enjoys the SCCL stadium environment when the Timbers venture south.

"I love it, I love it," he finished. "It makes me remember the Libertadores Cup. It's very similar. It's a different feeling [from MLS matches], different stadiums, different ways of playing. It's amazing. Different cultures. It's great."