Timbers' Diego Valeri wins 2017 MLS Most Valuable Player award

Diego Valeri was named Major League Soccer's Most Valuable Player on Monday, after scoring 21 goals for the Portland Timbers in 2017.

Valeri, in his fifth season in Portland, is the first Timbers player to ever win the highest individual award in MLS.

The 31-year-old midfielder made headlines earlier this year by scoring in nine straight games from July to September, breaking the previous MLS record of seven.

"You fight hard all season, and to be named player of the year is amazing," he told The Associated Press. "You work hard for the team and to be recognized from your own people, it's awesome."

His 21 goals were third in the league behind Chicago's Nemanja Nikolic and New York City FC's David Villa, but Valeri was much more efficient, netting his tally on 93 shots, compared to 118 for Nikolic and 136 for Villa.

Valeri also added 11 assists in 32 games, all starts, as Portland finished first in the Western Conference. He is just the second player to record at least 20 goals and 10 assists in the same year after Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco in 2015.

Valeri won the player, club and media votes with an average of 50.7 percent, well ahead of Villa, who was second with 16.4 percent, and Nikolic (7.8 percent). Fellow finalist Giovinco was fourth (6 percent) and Atlanta United's Miguel Almiron fifth (3.68 percent).

In a ceremony on Monday at the North American headquarters of Adidas, Timbers owner Merritt Paulson called Valeri a "revelation to us."

"I remember 2012 and our No. 1 team need was a creative attacking midfielder, and we'd been largely focused on a young American there," Paulson said. "That deal wasn't getting done and [GM Gavin Wilkinson] called me and said, 'Let's spend a little bit more money, and take a little more risk out of the equation. In Argentina there's this guy named Valeri. He should be our target.'"

Last month, Valeri was named to the MLS Best XI for the third time in five years. He also won the Newcomer of the Year award in 2013 after joining Portland from Lanus in his native Argentina.

"Since we arrived here with my family, everyone gave us love -- that's the word. Obviously from the club, the supporters, all the people of the city. A lot of people, friends we have now," he said.

"That's hard to find when it's not your country. We really appreciated that. That's why it's special for us and it's our second home.''

He is the third Argentine to win the MVP after Christian Gomez in 2006 and Guillermo Barros Schelotto in 2008.