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Six Degrees: A Plethora of Strikers

Felipe Mora at Timbers Training in Costa Rica
Craig Mitchelldyer, Portland Timbers

1) This time last week, the Timbers had exactly one striker under contract. Now? We’ve got three.

The first striker is Jarosław Niezgoda, who we’ve been hearing about for weeks, possibly months. His heart ablation surgery was successful, he’s passed all his physicals, and last week, the Timbers made it official. The 24-year-old Pole is our newest Designated Player.

Maybe you’ve already seen his highlight reel, but if you haven’t, here it is. Dude looks good. And, yes, everyone looks good in highlight reels (that’s kind of the point of highlight reels), but the fact remains, he seems like a guy with a lot of tools in his toolbox. I’m feeling optimistic.

I learned a few things this week. One, I’ve been pronouncing his name wrong. I’d been doing the whole nee-EZ-go-da thing, but nope, turns out he pronounces it nee-ez-GO-da.

Second thing I learned? See that L in his first name? It’s got a diagonal line through it. If you look, you’ll see that I figured out how to put it in his name up above, but don’t count on me to do that every week.

Third thing? I may not need to, since the dude goes by Jarek, not Jarosław. And it seems to be pronounced YAIR-ick. If my phonetic spelling confuses you, just think of Zarek Valentin. That’s exactly how he pronounces it, only with a Y at the start.

I’m suddenly really sad that we couldn’t have a Jarek and a Zarek on the same team. Damn you, expansion draft!

2) Our second striker is Felipe Mora. I still can’t get over how fast this signing happened. With Niezgoda, there were rumors for months. With Mora? I hadn’t heard a thing about it before last week. But life comes at you fast sometimes, and now the 26-year-old Chilean is wearing green and gold.

It’s actually a one year loan with the option to buy, so Mora’s got good incentive to do well this year. He’s sorta playing for a new contract.

The guy’s got a good track record, having scored double-digit goals four straight years in Chile and Mexico. There was a slight drop in goals this past year, but that might be entirely because the new coach at Pumas switched to a one-striker lineup. That new coach’s plans might also be how we got him on a TAM deal, versus a DP deal. I’ve heard a few people saying that we got him for a steal. So, you know, that’s cool.

3) Our third striker is 22-year-old Jeremy Ebobisse. You may have heard of him. He led the team in goals last year.

Despite that, he might be Gio’s third-choice striker this coming year. To be clear, I don’t know this. In fact, I’m not sure anyone knows this, not even Gio.

Gio’s saying all the right things in his interviews. He’s saying the forwards will complement each other, which sounds awesome, but will it actually be awesome? I have no idea, man. At this point, we’ll just have to trust that Gio uses all three of them, rather than running one into the ground while the other two spend the year on the bench. We’ll have to trust that he tries some strategies beyond “sit deep and counter.” We’ll have to hope that his shiny new strikers, his shiny new winger, and his shiny new center back mean that, in Gio’s third year at the helm, he’s finally got the roster he needs to play the active, front-foot, attacking kind of soccer he’s said he wants to play.

But am I ready to predict anything? No. Talk to me in April.

4) One thing that’s got me feeling a little better about the team’s logjam of strikers and how it will affect young Jeremy Ebobisse is something I read in a Richard Farley column last week.

In one sense, though Ebobisse has already passed this particular rubicon, having beaten out his competition to become a core player in each of the last two seasons. Still, at 22, his development has to continue, and if there’s anything we can infer from his team’s recent acquisitions, it’s that they feel he’s ready for a greater challenge. Mora and Niezgoda, from the outside, look like moves that block Ebobisse, but in an ideal world, Ebobisse will prove to be on their levels.

I love this paragraph because it shifted my perspective a little. It made me wonder if bringing in better competition isn’t an insult, but a compliment. Maybe the team think Jebo’s ready to take on some newer, better competition.

Is this the true and correct perspective? I don’t know, but I’m gonna take it for a test drive this year and see how I like it. Hopefully, come mid-season, I’ll be thinking, You know, Farley was right. The competition’s been good for Jebo. He’s better because of it.

Let’s hope that’s where we end up.

5) I mentioned earlier that the Mora signing seemed really fast. Truth is, the whole offseason’s seemed really, really busy. You know who agrees with me? General Manager Gavin Wilkinson. Here’s a really good article about how frenzied things have been the last few months.

If you don’t wanna read the whole article, here’s a couple things worth noting:

  • yes, the club is trying to extend Jebo’s contract, and
  • yes, they’re trying to turn Cristhian Parendes’s loan into a permanent contract.

How close they are on both those things is unclear.

6) Welp, I’ve got one more degree but no more news, so what kind of silliness can we talk about down in the comments?

How about this:

Seriously, if Ebobisse sinks that header, it’s 1-1 at halftime, and game state is everything in soccer. Maybe we sit deep the whole second half. Maybe we score a late goal on a counter and win 2-1. Or maybe not, maybe we finish 1-1, then win it with spot kicks. Maybe we get our second star before those dickheads up in Seattle.

That’s my biggest Timbers What-If. What about you? Got any cool ones? Maybe a draft pick we should have taken? A trade we should’ve made? A tiny little play that could have changed everything? Let’s hear ‘em down in the comments.