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Portland Timbers icon has penalty kick saved in his likely last touch at Providence Park.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Diego Valeri is alone with his thoughts moments after New York City FC claimed the MLS Cup championship on Saturday, Dec. 11 in a match decided by penalty kicks at Providence Park. Valeri's kick was one of two saved by NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson.It wasn't the ending Portland craved.

In a better world, Diego Valeri drills the winning goal, either from 22 yards in the first overtime, or in the penalty-kick shootout, and walks out of Providence Park the ultimate hero.

Alas, there was no storybook ending for the Timbers' great. His penalty kick was read and saved by Sean Johnson and when NYCFC clinched the MLS Cup trophy by making four of their five shots in the tiebreaker, Valeri crumpled to the turf in the center circle, both hands covering his face for several minutes as New York players danced nearby and as his Timbers teammates and staff consoled one another.

After a minute, Larrys Mabiala came over to embrace the man who lifted the Portland Timbers to MLS relevance, to one championship, and who played a part in three runs to the league final. Eryk Williamson was next, and as some of his teammates made the traditional lap to applaud their fans, Valeri stood alone for a few minutes until owner Merritt Paulson made his way over and put an arm around Valeri.

Eventually, Valeri and his teammates retreated to their locker room to contemplate what might have been.

Nothing is official, yet. But, every indication is that the Diego Valeri chapter with the Portland Timbers ended when Alexander Callens converted his penalty kick to clinch victory and a championship for NYCFC. He turns 36 in May and his role down the stretch and through the playoffs limited to coming off the bench late in games.

Valeri wasn't available during post-match interview sessions, but both Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese and captain Diego Chara spoke in past tense about what Valeri has meant to the club, the city, the league.

"He made this league a better league. He made the Portland Timbers what it is, and he's shown all his quality," Savarese said. "He's played always with so much passion. And he's a legend for Portland. He's one that has shown why these type of players are important for them to come to Major League Soccer, and he allows with his way of playing MLS to be a better league."

Chara used the word amazing several times to describe his nine seasons playing alongside Valeri.

The Valeri legend started with a special juggling goal in the 2013 season opener — against another New York side at Providence Park. It was a goal that announced that things were about to change dramatically in Portland's third MLS season.

And it wasn't only his obvious talent, but the way Valeri and his family embraced Portland.

"He has a very special family," Savarese said. "He's just an example of what foreign players should be for Major League Soccer and for any team in Major League Soccer."

Whenever he did something special — his 2017 league MVP season, his three Best XI selections, four All-Star games and scoring in the 2015 MLS Cup championship victory — Valeri would say something about doing it for the fans.

It stings that Saturday's embraces were not celebratory. Opportunities to raise a trophy in front of those fans don't come often. The disappointment, as Savarese noted, is certain to last for a long while.

But, Valeri's legend certainly will last much, much longer.


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