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Six Degrees: Five Favorite Americans

SOCCER: JUL 29 MLS - Portland Timbers at Houston Dynamo Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There’s still no soccer, but I’m cranking out these columns anyway, so let’s get back to our Five Favorites gimmick, only instead of choosing by position, we’ll choose by FIFA confederation.

6) First ground rule: as with all my Five Favorite columns, this is not about which players are best. Maybe I’ll do that someday, but for now, it’s not about who’s best, it’s about which players I liked best. You don’t have to be good to make these lists, I just have to like you.

Second ground rule: here’s how I’ll organize the columns.

  • CONCACAF (USA only)
  • CONCACAF (non-USA)
  • CONMEBOL (South America)
  • CAF (Africa)
  • UEFA (Europe)
  • AFC (Asia)
  • OFC (Oceania)

There’s a chance I’ll have to combine AFC and OFC, as there really haven’t been a lot of Timbers from those confederations. (If you know of some obscure folks that could fill out those lists, lemme know.)

Third ground rule: I’m going to choose a player’s confederation based on where they grew up. Darlington Nagbe was born in Liberia, but he grew up in Ohio, so I’d put him on my CONCACAF team. Diego Chara is an American citizen, but he grew up in Colombia, so I’d put him on my CONMEBOL team.

Fourth ground rule: as I said before, this is not about which players are best, it’s about which players I like best. You don’t have to be good to make one of these Five Fave lists, I just have to like you.

Now, let’s get to it. My Five Favorite Timbers from CONCACAF (USA only).

5) My fifth favorite American CONCACAFer is Jack Jewsbury.

The irony here is that I wasn’t even around for Captain Jack’s best season. I came to Portland in 2012, but apparently in 2011, Jack absolutely crushed it. I get the idea he was farther forward and more goal-dangerous and might have been called an attacking midfielder. But by the time I started following the team, Jack had begun transitioning to a more defensive role, popping up at the 8, at the 6, at fullback if I recall correctly, and hell, did he ever play goalkeeper? I wouldn’t rule it out.

The old salty dog was a leader on the field and off, he was versatile, he scored some clutch goals, and he was a class act through it all.

SOCCER: DEC 06 MLS Cup - Timbers at Crew SC Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

4) My fourth favorite American CONCACAFer is Darlington Nagbe.

The great thing about loving Nags was that so, so many people didn’t understand how good he was. “Not many goals, not many assists, what’s so great about this guy?” But we understood, didn’t we? Nags was a possession machine. Give him the ball anytime, anywhere, surrounded by as many defenders as you like, and he’s not getting dispossessed. He’s just not. Plus, he may not have scored a lot, but every goal he did score was a golazo. Still not enough for you? Well, he was also the subject of the greatest heat map in the history of sports, courtesy of Twitter’s @ronalgringo.

3) My third favorite American CONCACAFer is Jeff Attinella.

There ain’t nothing like listening to an entire stadium chant “Jeff Jeff Jeff!” That alone might have earned Jeff Jeff Jeff a spot on this list, but there’s more. You know he writes kids books, right? And you’ve heard his podcast with Zarek Valentin, right? They’re still doing it, too. Zarek’s gone to Houston, but the old roommates are still getting on the phone to talk about life, soccer, the quarantine, and changing diapers. It’s awesome, Jeff Jeff Jeff’s awesome, and he’s number three on my list.

Portland Timbers v Montreal Impact Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

2) My second favorite American CONCACAFer is Jeremy Ebobisse.

I think part of the reason Jebo’s so high on this list is that I’ve been able to watch him work his way up from draft pick to T2 player to bench-sitter to everyday starter. It’s a very different relationship than what I have with Timbers who show up as already-established players. I feel much more invested in Jebo. He feels like part of the family, a nephew we’ve gotten to watch grow up.

SOCCER: OCT 06 MLS - San Jose Earthquakes at Portland Timbers

1) My favorite American CONCACAFer is Zarek Valentin.

Zarek may be the single most likeable person to ever wear the green and gold. Yes, he played a valuable role on the field, especially in 2018, when he bounced back and forth from left back to right, depending on who was injured that week, but that’s not what got him to the top of this list. He made it to number one for his world-class TV interviews, for his podcast with Jeff Attinella, for his RibbonZ fundraiser with Hayley Raso, for defending Diego Chara, for mocking Dom Diver, and for making us mourn his departure to Houston. Hopefully someday he’ll end up back in Portland as a coach or a broadcaster or something. If there’s ever been a more charming, likeable Timber, I can’t think who it is.

And there you go. My Five Favorite American Timbers. If you’ve got someone else you’d put on your list, let me hear about it down below.

I’ll send out some honorable mentions to Jorge Villafaña, Eryk Williamson. Sal Zizzo, David Horst, Steve Clark, Bright Dike, and Kendall McIntosh. Sorry, fellas. You were close. (Post-publication addition: Nat Borchers! How the hell did I forget about Nat? Makes me wonder who else I’ve forgotten...)