Even without goals yet, Savarese happy with Valeri: “He gives us oxygen”

FRISCO, Texas—When the Portland Timbers needed a moment of sheer brilliance on Sarturday, it came off the left foot of Sebastian Blanco, and not from reigning MLS MVP Diego Valeri.

Even so, coach Giovani Savarese insists Valeri has played a crucial role so far in 2018.

After Blanco's curler in the second half lifted Portland to a 1-1 draw and their first point of the season against FC Dallas on Saturday, Savarese described Valeri's contributions as just as important, if perhaps less obvious, in earning a gutty result in steamy conditions at Toyota Stadium.

"I thought he was very good today -- Valeri was on the ball constantly," Savarese said. "I think Valeri gave us oxygen. He was able to be smart and hold the ball in key moments for us. We need to be patient, and we want him to start scoring as well. Today he was crucial for us and that’s a great role for him."

In their third game of the season, Savarese rolled out a 4-3-2-1 formation, commonly known as the "Christmas Tree" for its symmetric, triangular shape. The lineup gave Blanco and Valeri free roles behind Fanendo Adi, and allowed the Argentine duo to take wider positions after two very narrow looks from the Timbers attack in their opening matches. The tactical change also led to the duo switching sides frequently, and Valeri dropping back in the midfield.

On the goal, after Valeri and Adi combined, Blanco took advantage of an injured Anton Nedyalkov by making space on the Portland right flank before scoring from the top of the box.

"Beautiful goal and a perfect moment for us," Savarese said. "Usually the start of the second half is when [FC Dallas] come at you with everything they have, and finding that goal for us was crucial."

The results of those tactics weren't all good, however. As much as Portland enjoyed success in the middle third of the field, only two of their six shots on target were inside the box, and only 6 of their 326 pass attempts found a player in the Dallas area. FCD center back pairing Matt Hedges and Reto Ziegler held close to 20 percent of the game's possession on their own, as Portland struggled to maintain and regain possession in the Dallas half.

Still, Blanco's moment was enough to help Portland escape a tough venue with a result. The Argentine has struck both of Portland's goals this season, a promising sign after it took him until June to reach that mark a season ago in his maiden MLS campaign.

While Savarese does not want to rely solely on Blanco, he is happy to see a return on the team's investment in the former San Lorenzo man.

"That’s a part of him, something he’s good at," said Savarese. "He scored goals like that last year. Overall he’s a player that can find good solutions. That’s why he’s a DP player and today he was fantastic."