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After a solid USL season, Williamson is looking to take the next step in 2020

Midfielder Eryk Williamson could be the latest Timber to make the leap from USL to MLS, showing just how far player development in Portland has come over the past few seasons.

Kris Lattimore

Many times in the past, when people think of the Portland Timbers the first thing that comes to mind is not often the team’s ability to develop young players into future MLS stars. Sure, there have been the stray one or two players that went from Timbers 2 to find time in the MLS side, but the franchise doesn’t exactly have the stellar track record of a New York Red Bulls, Real Salt Lake, or FC Dallas— all teams that are known for taking younger prospects and giving them significant first team minutes as unproven products.

That reputation is now beginning to shift. Over the past few years, Timbers 2 has continued to churn out more and more young talent, talent that is beginning to make its mark on the first team.

Jeremy Ebobisse, Marvin Loría, Renzo Zambrano, and Marco Farfan are just a few examples of younger players getting first team minutes under Giovanni Savarese. This season a player that could make that same leap is Eryk Williamson.

The Timbers acquired the rights to Williamson in a trade with D.C United back in 2018. At the time, the homegrown player was coming off a collegiate career in which he contributed 14 goals and 13 assists over three seasons at the University of Maryland. In 19 games last season Williamson looked to be a cut above his USL competition, finishing with four goals and leading the team in both assists (9) and chances created (40). The Virginia native played in the U.S Open Cup and started getting MLS minutes few and far between last season, but this year he is hoping to make his mark on the regular season.

“It’s the next step,” Williamson said shortly after playing roughly 13 minutes in the Timbers’ 2-1 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps. “I’ve definitely proven myself at the T2 level and I think it is time for me to make the next step and consistently play at the next level. I know it’s a battle for minutes and it’s a healthy battle, but the next step in my career is getting regular minutes with the first team and being a regular, even if it’s not starting every game.”

Just under two weeks ago Williamson netted a brace against Municipal Grecia, on Sunday he showed brief flashes of his potential after being subbed on in the 77’.

On the field Williamson is more of an eight, a self-considered connector and an engine in the midfield. On T2, it is often Williamson who provides that little moment of magic in transition with line-breaking passes. Whenever T2 needs a goal off of a set piece, Williamson is the guy.

This season Williamson is looking to continue honing those skills whether it be on T2 or the first team. His ultimate goal, of course, is to be a consistent part of the first team 18 where he can make that next step in his development. Last season the Timbers often lacked those creative playmakers that could help break down a low-block as visiting teams constantly allowed Portland to have possession. Williamson is the type of midfielder that could be perfectly suited for situations such as those throughout a game.

“I want to be someone who’s making that cutting pass or being someone to break up the ball on the defensive end,” Williamson said. “So I think that is what I want to shape my game to be. As that eight connector and making sure that everything is one big group.”

While Williamson played just 13 minutes in his 2020 MLS preseason tournament debut, he did play a significant chunk of minutes earlier in the day when T2 took on the Whitecaps’ U-23 team.

“What we discussed as a group is that it is hard for everyone to get minutes at this time,” Williamson said. “We got a good chunk of minutes this morning and you kind of look at this like a double session. It was good to get out there get some minutes and run around.”

As his second full season in Portland begins, Williamson says that he wants to continue proving himself to the coaching staff. He knows that he put in a couple of good performances in Costa Rica, but also acknowledges that he has a long ways to go—it won't be easy, but he is determined. Over the past few seasons it has been Ebobisse who has been known as one of the Timbers’ better developmental prospects. Maybe this season it will be Williamson’s turn to make that transition from USL Championship to MLS.

“I want to continue to build off of what I did in Costa Rica,” Williamson said. “Showing that I can consistently give what I can give in a game and show Gio, make it hard for him and the staff, to show that I want to be a part of the starting group and be around the first team.”