After long rehab, injured Diego Valeri and Will Johnson nearing return with Portland Timbers

BEAVERTON, Ore. – There have been some welcome faces in Portland Timbers training sessions the last couple of days.

Playmaker Diego Valeri and captain Will Johnson began integrating back with the team last week and this week returned to drills and small-sided games as neutral players.

“So that was a nice milestone,” Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said after Tuesday’s training session at the team facility. “…We’re hoping next week they’ll be completely released to train, full-out.”

Valeri, of course, is thrilled to be back with the group after months of working with head athletic trainer Nik Wald on the sidelines.

“I’m really happy about that,” said Valeri. 

He noted he's in the process of sliding back into regular training alongside his teammates, “so I’m happy and I have to be patient the next couple of weeks.”

Valeri tore his ACL in the Timbers’ season finale last season, a 2-0 win over FC Dallas on Oct. 25, and his absence has been keenly felt. The Argentine attacking midfielder has been Portland’s most productive player since signing with the team ahead of the 2013 season, with 21 goals and 27 assists in two seasons.

The Canadian international Johnson, team captain in his two seasons with the Timbers, broke his leg in Portland’s 3-2 loss to Toronto FC on Sept. 27 last year.

Porter said both players on the “exact same track” in terms of their timeline for a return to action.

Valeri told media he’s hoping to be available to start getting game minutes in a “couple of weeks.”

“It’s hard, you know,” Valeri said. “It’s a long rehab, and you have to be patient. And you have sad moments, but we are almost there. So I want to get healthy quickly and help the team.”

Valeri said the toughest moments of his time away from the team has been watching games from the sideline, especially as the team struggles.

“The most difficult is when the weekend comes and I can’t play,” he said. “The training has been good, we are training hard so you don’t feel a difference there. But in the weekend, you can feel the difference, and that’s sad. But like I said, I am happy because I am close to being back. … It’s really hard for me to watch the games on the side. I get nervous every single game.”

Right alongside Valeri in his rehab has been Johnson. For that, Valeri said he’s been grateful for the companionship during a challenging time.

“We trained every single day together,” Valeri said. “When the team is flying to other states, we are having more time with us when we stay at home. We are spending time together, and that’s good for us because we can push each other.”

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for


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