If soccer named three stars like hockey does, Portland Timbers midfielder Diego Valeri would have been only the third star in Saturday's 4-0 home win over the Los Angeles Galaxy, despite his fantastic goal, his emotional celebration and despite becoming only the 13th player in MLS history to reach 150 combined regular-season goals and assists.
That's because Cristhian Paredes played the best match of his young life and Steve Clark continued to rule in goal.
Paredes' goals were nice, but for me, it was his comfort on the ball and smart movement without it that stood out. Plus his staying relevant after picking up an early yellow card.
"You try to be smart about it because you know once you have a yellow card, then you have to calm down and play more responsibly, so you have to measure yourself," Peredes said through interpreter Mauricio Villarreal.
Paredes, 21, from Paraguay, came to Portland early in 2018 on loan from Mexico's Club America. After struggling for playing time last season, he has been a regular midfield starter alongside veteran Diego Chara. The loan expires at the end of this year, but the Timbers are expected to acquire his rights and keep Paredes in Portland.
Paredes said the two-goal night will help his confidence. His coach said the performance of Paredes and rookie Renzo Zambrano in midfield was needed with Chara suspended
"Once (Paredes) started finding the gaps, moving the ball well, he had the confidence to be able to go a little bit more into the attack," Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said, calling Paredes' first goal a critical play. "You need players to step up; I thought he did. The third goal was an excellent goal."
Clark called Paredes fantastic.
"Getting offensive production from your (holding midfield position) is a big deal for us. He's grown into that role," the goalkeeper said. "He's a great guy, too. He's a great teammate."
Clark made six saves, three of them big-time reaction stops, including going post to post to rob Uriel Antuna with the score still 2-0 in the 75th minute. After that stunning stop, Clark raised both hands to the sky and basked in the sound of the fans chanting his name.
"That was a big moment," Clark said. "Also when (Valeri) scored the second goal, I was running around celebrating. We're having a lot of fun. I think sometimes with all the pressure, things get lost. This is fun. I don't get to do this forever, and I'm enjoying every second of it."
With Jeff Attinella undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery, the Timbers need Clark to stay sharp — and healthy. Unless they add a keeper before the tranfer window closes Aug. 7, the backups are Kendall McIntosh and Aljaz Ivacic. The Timbers like the potential of both, but each is young for a keeper at 25 and neither has played a minute in MLS.
Clark, who has been in goal for eight of Portland's nine league wins and all four shutouts, has made memorable plays in just about every game he's played this season. But Clark gave a nod to center backs Larrys Mabiala and Julio Cascante for keeping superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic quiet.
Perhaps "quiet" is the wrong word. The outspoken Swede drew a yellow card for voicing his opinion to referee Allen Chapman. He will miss the Galaxy's showdown this week with Atlanta United because of yellow-card accumulation.
Ibrahimovic did not address media after the match, but according to Galaxy coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto there was never a doubt that Ibrahimovic — who has 16 goals in 18 games this season and is third among active players in career goals behind only Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi — would play on the artificial turf at Providence Park.
The result was a special opportunity for Cascante, the 25-year-old Costa Rican who is developing an effective partnership with the 31-year-old Mabiala. Cascante said he didn't have time to be starstruck.
"When you play against those types of players, you grow up as a person, as a player. That's good (experience)," Cascante said after the game. "You need to stay calm and be focused on what you want to do. We did it today."
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