Valeri: This is a time for family, personal growth
Diego Valeri and his Timbers teammates spent much of the first five months of 2019 away from Portland while the Providence Park expansion was completed.
It's much different in 2020.
Valeri discussed being housebound in Portland and more on April 7 during a half-hour online session with reporters from local outlets and beyond. Answering questions in both Spanish and English, Valeri sounded upbeat but as anxious as any worker is who is sidelined by COVID-19 for a return to normalcy.
The Timbers' captain, who turns 34 on May 1, is doing his best to stay healthy, fit and engaged while staying home.
And, not surprisingly, the 2017 MLS Most Valuable Player is trying to make the most of the time — taking a coaching course, reading, playing the guitar and enjoying extra time with wife Florencia and daughter Connie.
"We're used to spending a lot of time together, but this is something that forces you to be home all day long," he said.
Valeri's soccer brain is tested by online team meetings to discus tactics and more, and by his studies to earn a coaching license in his native Argentina.
"I also think a lot about life. Don't forget that we are human beings and we first think as such before thinking as athletes," Valeri said. "I think about everything that is happening, how life can surprise you and change things around."
Valeri is among those helping to keep the connection strong among players who are isolated from each other.
He, Sebastian Blanco and Diego Chara are leading a chat group for the Timbers Latino players. Goalkeepers Steve Clark and Jeff Attinella are taking the lead of the chat group for the English speakers.
The Timbers coaches and support staff are consistently in touch with each player, but the isolation is especially challenging for players who don't have family with them, Valeri said.
"We are in constant communication with them, just as much as the coaches are," Valeri said. "We all try to cheer them up."
One example is Dario Zuparic, the first-year Timbers defender from Croatia.
"Thankfully, his family is doing well. It's not easy, but we talk on the phone and we see each other on the video conferences," Valeri said.
Valeri added that the players are being well supported by the club, including "providing high-quality food and then the team's chefs are doing a spectacular job by bring the food to their homes."
During the week, Valeri said, the focus of mornings are Connie's online schooling. The rest of the day is family time, including conversations with family and friends in Argentina.
"With our family in Argentina, they're in quarantine too. So we're talking to them through video on the phone with our parents and family," Valeri said. "We're connecting with them more than normal because it's not an easy time and most of them are alone or having a tough time in this moment."
The Timbers use the Kitman Labs Athlete App to monitor and interact with players, including providing specific workouts. Valeri's routine includes working out at home Monday through Saturday, with the more difficult training sessions on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
"The app helps us a lot with the workouts. You can see them on your screen, it guides you and tells you the number of repetitions you need to do," Valeri said.
No matter how much work players are doing on their own, it will take time to get back into shape for soccer, when and if MLS resumes.
"Being honest, we're going to need at least a couple of weeks after this (quarantine) to be (prepared) to compete because it's not the same kind of training. We're going to need at some point to start running and playing in more big spaces," he said.
As part of using this period for personal introspection and growth, Valeri is taking a "very comprehensive" online course through the school of Argentine coaching legend César Luis Menotti.
He said that he is not committed to becoming a coach after his playing days, but getting a coaching license it is part of developing options for his future.
"It's just to be prepared and I'm always open to learn," he said.
Sometimes, Valeri plays the guitar on his balcony. Sometimes, he and Connie use the balcony to get touches on a soccer ball. Board games are a staple of family time. Not a big viewer of television, Valeri has been watching some Netflix, mentioning "Self Made," the miniseries based on the life of Madam C.J. Walker.
Valeri, who scored the only two Timbers goals in 2020 before the MLS shut down and is up to 84 goals and 88 assists in MLS games (including playoffs), remains optimistic there will be a 2020 MLS season. But Valeri also is realistic.
"I expect to be competing at some point this season," he said. "I think it's going to be OK, but obviously (it depends upon) the science and the medical part of society finding a treatment to fight against this virus, because otherwise it's going to be tough."
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