BEAVERTON, Ore. – Zarek Valentin has enjoyed the most productive year of his professional career, a statement that could stand on its own if it didn’t miss so many other landmarks that have arrived in his life. Having recently concluded his college course work as well as gotten engaged to his now-fiancée, Liz, Valentin establishing himself as regular starter for the Portland Timbers can be seen as a footnote. Even though he is a professional soccer player, life is still more important beyond the field.
That’s where Valentin’s most recent honor comes into view. The Timbers fullback has been nominated for the 2018 MLS WORKS Humanitarian of the Year, presented by Advocare, a selection that complements the Stand Together Community MVP honor he’s already won. Be it his contributions to Habitat for Humanity or his spearheading of the #RibbonsZ campaign to help local LGBTQ youth, Valentin has made it a point to have an impact on Portland beyond the field.
“It’s an honor to be up for [the award],” Valentin says, ahead of the Timbers’ 2018 regular-season finale and Decision Day presented by AT&T battle in Vancouver on Sunday (1:30pm PT, ROOT SPORTS). “To win the Stand Together award is an honor. This community has given the team so much, more than it could ever ask for, game in and game out. It’s the least we can do to give back to them.”
The #RibbonsZ campaign brought Valentin’s community focus to light, taking a Twitter friendly wager he’d made with Thorns FC winger Hayley Raso (and defender Meghan Klingenberg) and using it as an opportunity to raise awareness and funds for local, at risk youth. It’s part of an attitude that’s sought to leverage Valentin’s increased profile to help his adopted home. For the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, native, using his voice is part of having his platform.
“What was Lebron (James) told by that radio talk show host, right? Shut up and dribble,” Valentin mused, recalling not only the controversy which, last spring, surrounded the NBA’s biggest star but also the joke he made at his own expense when previously asked about his #RibbonsZ activism.
“My quote was, ‘if I dribble, I’ll dribble out of bounds, anyway,’” he laughs. “So, I can’t just do that. We’re given a platform, as athletes, and I think we need to use that platform for good.”
Since his arrival in Portland, Valentin’s platform has continued to grow. After making 18 then 17 starts following his 2016 arrival in the Rose City, Valentin has been in Giovanni Savarese’s gameday XI 30 times this season, eclipsing the previous career high (24) he accumulated as a rookie for Chivas USA in 2011. Stops in Montréal and Bodø, Norway, followed, but with his Jan. 2016 trade from Impact FC to Portland, Valentin began his longest (and ongoing) stretch with in an MLS locale.
“Portland has been great to myself and my family since we got here,” he explains. “We’ve developed a special bond to the city that’s continually growing every day.”
The bond, according to Valentin, is fueled not only by proximity and longevity but ideology.
“The way the Timbers Army is with their no racism, no bigotry – none of that garbage, is allowed here,” he said. “I think we need to keep putting those incredible platforms out there, to keep bettering things, because the rest of the world, the rest of the country is not like Portland.
“By no means are we perfect, don’t get me wrong, but I think there are a lot of ideals that we can try to show the rest of world to be a little more progressive and be a little more inclusive. Because I know we’re that way, so it is the least we can do to use our platform for good.”
To the extent he can, Valentin is walking the walk. Helping New Avenues for Youth. Giving his time to Habitat for Humanity. From 2016 until now, Valentin has emerged as a key link between the Timbers and their community. It’s why the Portland fullback is up for yet another honor.