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Portland Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri named Major League Soccer most valuable player

Portland Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri has been named the 2017 Major League Soccer Most Valuable Player.

MLS announced the honor at a press conference in Portland Monday.

“To be recognized for your effort on the field, it’s always nice,” Valeri said. “MLS has a lot of great players. I never expected this.”

Valeri beat out New York City FC’s David Villa, Toronto FC’s Sebastian Giovinco, Atlanta United’s Miguel Almiron and the Chicago Fire’s Nemanja Nikolic to win the award.

The award was chosen by MLS players, management and the media. Valeri earned 50.71 percent of the vote, handily beating out Villa, who earned 16.40 percent of the vote. Valeri is the first Timbers player to earn the MLS MVP Award.

Valeri said that winning the MLS MVP award was the best individual honor of his career.

“Obviously, you always dream and you fight for it,” Valeri said. “I’m happy with what I’m doing. I’ll keep fighting for this club. Now, I’ll enjoy this.”

Valeri had a historic season in 2017. The Argentine playmaker recorded a career-high 21 goals and added 11 assists to become just the second player in MLS history to record at least 20 goals and 10 assists in a single season. His performance earned him his third selection to the MLS Best XI.

During his incredible 2017 campaign, Valeri became the first Timbers player to reach 100 combined career goals and assists, set a new all-time Timbers career record for goals scored and set a new MLS record by scoring in nine consecutive games. In addition, the 31-year-old was named to the MLS Team of the Week nine times this year, more than any other MLS player.

“Every individual award in this game is a collective achievement,” Valeri said. “That is why this is also for each one of my teammates. Since I arrived here in this city, they gave us their love and their support. Our supporters occupy a very special place in my heart. I only have words of thanks for them and this also belongs to them.”

While some players might be past their prime at the age of 31, Valeri credited his tremendous success this season to a change in diet and routine and the support of his teammates.

Ahead of the 2017 season, Valeri started working with a nutritionist and began greatly reducing his dairy and gluten consumption. He also started dedicating more time to his recovery after trainings and games and made a concerted effort to improve key aspects of his play, including his ability to score on headers.

But Valeri also said his chemistry with his teammates was key in allowing him to produce this season.

Ahead of the 2017 season, the Timbers signed winger Sebastian Blanco, who played with Valeri in Argentina, and the two attackers demonstrated immediate chemistry on the field. Portland also managed to keep its core group intact from 2016 to 2017, which was important to the group’s cohesion this year. The Timbers scored a Western Conference-leading 60 goals in 2017.

“Everything helps,” Valeri said. “In our job, the little things make a difference sometimes. But I think most of the reason (for my performance) is because of my teammates and the confidence that the club has in me.”

Valeri joined the Timbers ahead of the 2013 season after 10 successful years with Argentine club Lanus. During his five seasons in MLS, Valeri has developed into a Timbers legend, recording 58 goals and 53 assists.

At the same time that he has led the Timbers on the field, Valeri has also been active in the community away from the pitch. Valeri and his family have often talked about their love for Portland and Valeri has said that he hopes to retire as a Timber. Along with his on-field performance this season, Valeri was also named the Timbers Community MVP for his active involvement and community service in Portland.

“You’ve been a revelation for us on the field,” Timbers owner Merritt Paulson told Valeri during Monday’s press conference. “But you’ve also been a revelation for us off the field… The whole Valeri family, you embody what it means to be a Portland Timber. I can’t be more proud that you wear the Timbers colors.”

(Jamie Goldberg)