PORTLAND — Diego Valeri said the Portland Timbers need to be more aggressive and ruthless around the goal.
He didn’t use the word desperation, but it probably fits. On the eve of Saturday’s home match against resurgent D.C. United, the Argentine midfielder talked about the challenges ahead for a Timbers team that didn’t anticipate going the first two months of the Major League Soccer season without a win.
“We are working mentally, too, because this situation is a little bit hard” after experiencing so much success last season, Valeri said.
Valeri, the MLS newcomer of the year in 2013, has one goal and no assists through eight games. A key engine for the Timbers who had 10 goals and 13 assists last season, Valeri has dealt with more attention from opponents and with offseason surgery for a sports hernia.
Tightness related to the surgery is why Valeri left in the second half of the Timbers’ last two games, but on Friday he said he is good to go for the match against D.C. United.
Getting the Timbers attack healthy will require confidence and commitment, coach Caleb Porter said. Porter is looking for his attacking players to demonstrate pride through determination and skill.
“We worked on it all week, making sure that individually we take responsibility at times to go at players, get a half-chance, drive, shoot,” Porter said.
Like Valeri, Darlington Nagbe has not yet made the impact on the attack that he did last season.
Nagbe continues to be the most-fouled player in MLS, with 29 infractions cited against him. Nagbe averaged almost two shots a game last season, but he has taken only seven shots (three on goal) through eight games and has no goals and one assist.
Despite the struggles, Valeri said confidence is not a problem for himself or his teammates.
“It’s just (about) working,” Valeri said. “We are very confident in our team. We are very confident in our quality. So we know that the wins are coming” because the Timbers were close to winning several of the first eight.
While the Timbers are seeking their first win, D.C. United has already matched last season’s total of three wins after adding eight MLS veterans during the offseason — including U.S. national team striker Eddie Johnson, a former Sounder.
“It’s a completely different team,” Porter said. “And they have eight new players who are as talented and experienced as anybody in the league.”
Valeri hopes to soon experience some of the success he enjoyed in his first season in Portland.
“We know that at home we have to push the game. Stay in the front half,” he said. “We are looking for ways to be more aggressive, or different ways to be ruthless in front of goal.”
MatchDay: D.C. United at Timbers
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Providence Park.
TV: ROOT Sports.
Radio: 750 AM.
Timbers (0-3-5, 5 points): The search for a win has stretched into May and the ninth match of the season. This is the first of three consecutive home matches and what might become a decisive stretch of games — for better or for worse. Portland has not lost a regular-season home match since the second game of last season. But the four home matches this season have all ended in draws.
“Teams are happy coming in here getting a tie, and that’s obvious,” Timbers coach Caleb Porter said. “That makes it more difficult (for the Timbers) to get the win.”
D.C. United (3-2-2, 11 points): United is one of the hotter teams in the league and coming off a 4-1 home win over F.C. Dallas is unbeaten in five games with wins in three of those. United has 10 goals through seven matches this season — five of them home games. Fabian Espindola, who turns 29 on Sunday, has four goals and three assists to lead D.C. The last time the Argentine forward was in Portland, he scored twice for the New York Red Bulls in the 2013 season opener. Former Seattle striker Eddie Johnson has yet to score for D.C. United after moving to the club in the offseason. He recorded his first assist last week. “Those 2 guys together are as good as it gets in the league,” Porter said about the Espindola-Johnson pairing. Former Timbers assistant coach Amos Magee is now an assistant for United coach Ben Olsen and the coach for United’s under-23 team.