Orlando City SC ends its four-match road trip tonight, as the team faces the Portland Timbers at Providence Park. The Lions have one win, one tie, and one loss in the last three games and they have a tough mission ahead of them if they want to return home on a high: stopping Diego Valeri.
The Argentinean play maker has been a key piece of the Timbers’ offensive system since his arrival in 2013, but he is taking things to a different level in 2017. Valeri is still the facilitator we are used to seeing, with nine assists recorded, but now he’s also a scoring machine, amassing 18 goals to rank second in the league, only behind David Villa, and to tie for the most goals a midfielder has ever scored in MLS in a single season.
To make things worse, the 31-year-old attacking midfielder will face Orlando in amazing form since he became the first player in MLS history to score goals in eight consecutive matches last weekend in the 2-1 loss to the Real Salt Lake.
Valeri seems to have refined one of the few weaknesses of his game this season. Widely known for his ability with the ball on his feet, he was not so efficient in the air, but that has apparently changed since he leads the league in headed goals with five, alongside Orlando’s Cyle Larin.
Defending Valeri is not simple because the Argentinean’s skill set is one of the most versatile in the league. He can shoot from distance, set teammates up, run with the ball or without it to finish crosses inside the box effectively. However, the fact that the Timbers play in a very similar system to Atlanta United, who the Lions faced last weekend, can help.
“I think that the really nice thing about playing Portland right now is that it is very similar to Atlanta,” Head Coach Jason Kreis said to the media after Wednesday’s training session. “Portland’s Valeri is similar to Atlanta’s Almirón. Both want to occupy very similar spaces, both look for the ball in the same sorts of areas, and both are very lethal when they have the ball on their feet.”
A possible alternative Kreis could explore is using a man marking system to disrupt the Argentinean. If properly instructed, Orlando’s defensive midfielders have the potential to at least reduce Valeri’s impact on the field and help the Lions come back home with one more positive result.