Diego Chara pivots, winds up, and unleashes a strong ball down the right flank. The pass rolls forward across the Providence Park pitch, dropping perfectly between Portland’s Sebastian Blanco, and Colorado’s Edgar Castillo; both players bearing down on the fifty-fifty ball. They clash together, and whether by luck or sheer willpower, Blanco carries the ball through, leaving Castillo able to do nothing but raise his hands in disbelief.
It takes just one touch from Blanco to dribble the ball into the box, glancing up as he settles the ball at his feet. Blanco spies Jeremy Ebobisse, carefully keeping shoulder-to-shoulder with the Rapids back line. With a deft flick, Blanco sends a curling pass into the box, the rotation of the ball carrying it around the hustling defenders and into the oncoming run of Ebobisse, who lunges in with his left boot and pokes it past the diving frame of Tim Howard.
The piercing roar of the Timber’s Army fills the stadium. The unbridled passion from the young striker boils over as he tears across the pitch, face contorted in a triumphant yell. Portland’s starting XI swarm him as they celebrate his first goal of the season.
1-0, good guys.
Head coach Giovanni Savarese’s approach to playing time has been consistent, even if it may seem confusing to the fans; prove it on the practice field, prove it throughout the week, and the opportunities will come.
“I’m not going to play players just because people are saying ‘I wanna see a young guy,’” asserted Savarese, following the game. “They need to be ready. We have to do the right things for them to succeed and evolve the right way.”
With Portland’s recent scoring struggles, and the inconsistent play of both starting striker Samuel Armenteros and second-choice center forward Dairon Asprilla, public pressure has been building to run out some of the exciting youth that Portland has stockpiled over the last couple of years. But Savarese and the coaching staff were not going to put the development of their prospects at risk because of public outcry.
“I’m not going to throw players into a situation where they’re going to fail,” Savarese explained. “Especially youngsters because their confidence sometimes can be a little bit more fragile.”
But on Saturday night, at Providence Park, Savarese decided that Ebobisse was indeed ready. His preparation, and the moment, aligned to present an opportunity to start against the Colorado Rapids.
It didn’t take long for Ebobisse to make his mark on the game. In the 11th minute Diego Valeri sent a free kick curling in from the left side of the pitch and Ebobisse got his foot under it and sent it into the back of the net, only to turn and see the offside flag raised to cancel out the goal.
The young striker didn’t falter, however, using his energy to pressure the Rapids defenders in possession and combining in the attack wonderfully with Valeri and Blanco.
Unlike Dairon Asprilla, who, while playing out of his natural position at striker, struggled to make runs to open space and provide outlets for his fellow attackers, Ebobisse created space for the attacking midfield to make plays.
“Every player is different,” noted Blanco. “Asprilla runs more on a line into space, and [Ebobisse] can take the ball for a few seconds and we can recover and go up [in attack] similar to Samuel [Armenteros].”
The decision to play the young striker against Colorado was, on the surface, a curious one. Samuel Armenteros, who has held the top billing on the depth chart for most of the year, was coming off of ten days rest, although he had been absent from the team for part of the week to attend to a family matter. The widespread expectation was still to see Armenteros starting up top, but the lineup choice reflects the coaching staff and its philosophy to provide the best possible opportunities for their young players to excel. With the right opportunity at the proper time, Ebobisse shined in front of the fans at Providence Park.
“Jeremy finally has done what we expect from him to be able to start,” reflected Savarese. “The conditions were ideal for him to succeed, and he delivered a very good match.”
Ebobisse would go on to play a total of 75 minutes, subbing off for Armenteros after the match was secured in the 65th minute when a header goal by Valeri made in 2-0. As he walked off the pitch, Ebobisse received a rousing ovation from the home fans. The picture-perfect night can only serve to bolster his confidence as well as the desire to put the necessary work in to secure his place in the Timbers’ lineup again in the near future.
Following the game, the Portland locker room was an upbeat one, and a throng of reporters surrounded Ebobisse to hear from the man of the hour. He seemed a bit tentative at first, as he began answering questions, but loosened up as teammates playfully heckled him from around the room, and Ebobisse cracked a smile
When asked how his first start and first goal of the year felt, Ebobisse took a beat to reflect and said, “It feels really good. It’s tough sometimes watching from the sidelines, but I knew my opportunity would come at some point and I’m just grateful I was able to take it.”
Time will tell the full story on Jeremy Ebobisse and the rest of the Portland Timbers’ youth corps, but a system that focuses on preparing players to meet their moment — and to succeed — is a strong foundation.