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The Rise of Jaroslaw Niezgoda

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Whether he starts or comes off the bench Jaroslaw Niezgoda has provided goals and assists when the Timbers need it most.

Los Angeles FC v Portland Timbers - MLS Is Back Tournament Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Jaroslaw Niezgoda played his first minutes for the Portland Timbers in a 10-minute cameo against the Los Angeles Galaxy in the Timbers’ first match of the MLS is Back Tournament. He was also subbed on for 20 minutes in their second match against the Houston Dynamo.

Due to his substitute performances and the need for Giovanni Savarese to rest players, Neizgoda got his first start for the Timbers on July 23 against Los Angeles Football Club and has since become an integral player in the Timbers’ tournament run.

Niezgoda scored only seven minutes into his debut on the way to a 2-2 draw that would see Portland secure the top spot of Group F. He made a run down the middle of the pitch and received a line-breaking pass from Sebastian Blanco. The forward calmly slotted it in the bottom corner of the net, notching his first MLS goal.

Portland were pitted against FC Cincinnati in the Round of 16. Cincinnati defended with 11 men behind the ball and made life very difficult for the Timbers. But in 67th minute Diego Valeri played a ball in behind to Blanco, who received it on the touchline and fired it into the box. Niezgoda made a great run, positioning himself between three Cincinnati defenders. He took one touch and fired the ball into the back of the net.

Cincinnati equalized and the whistle blew, signaling a penalty shootout. Kendall Waston skyed FCC’s fourth penalty which meant Portland could advance if they scored. Niezgoda stepped to the spot and calmly put away his penalty to set up a quarterfinal matchup with New York City FC.

NYCFC went up early and Blanco equalized before the end of the first half. Valeri and Niezgoda were subbed on in the second half and linked up for the game-winning goal.

Valeri received a bouncing ball at the top of the 18-yard box and laid it off to Niezgoda. The Pole received the ball and as his defender moved to block his shot, he played a one-time ball back to Valeri. The Argentine curled the ball past the goalkeeper at his near post.

Niezgoda was born in Poniatowa, Poland in 1995 and spent his whole career in Poland before making the jump to Portland in 2020. He played with Wisla Pulaway throughout his youth career and was eventually called up to their first team in 2012. Niezgoda played in the third division of Poland with his boyhood club until 2016. Throughout his years at Wisla Pulaway he made 67 appearances across all competitions, netted 24 goals, and added seven assists.

Polish powerhouse Legia Warsaw took notice of the young goalscorer and signed him. He was sent out on loan to the Polish side Ruch Chorzow were he continued to punish the opposition. He scored 10 goals and assisted four times in 28 appearances in the 2016-17 season.

His performances with Ruch Chorzow allowed him to return to Warsaw where he became a key contributor in Legia Warsaw’s double-winning campaign. Niezgoda scored 13 goals and assisted twice. The Pole also came up big in the Polish League Cup Final, scoring the opening goal in a 2-1 victory.

Niezgoda continued improving at Legia Warsaw and was crowned the league’s top scorer in the 2019-2020 campaign with 14 goals.

Legia Warsaw v Korona Kielce - PKO Ekstraklasa Photo by Foto Olimpik/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Pole was on the short-list of potential Timbers signings and after MLS terminated Brian Fernandez’s contract, the Timbers took a closer look at Niezgoda. The absence of Fernandez left an enormous hole in the Portland attack. In 19 matches, Fernandez scored eleven goals and assisted once.

The Portland Timbers signed Niezgoda as a Designated Player from Legia Warsaw on Jan. 30, 2020. In his limited appearances in the MLS is Back Tournament he has shown glimpses of a player that can not only start to fill the hole left by Fernandez but also make those around him better and make the Timbers more unpredictable.

Niezgoda is calm and cool in the 18-yard box, can strike the ball from distance, is an aerial threat and is lethal with both feet. He can play as an out-and-out number nine or in a two-striker system, as well as out wide.

Throughout 153 minutes Niezgoda has scored two goals, put away the decisive penalty in the shootout and assisted the quarterfinal game-winner. He has already had a significant impact for the Timbers throughout the tournament and will be looking to make the difference again in the semifinal against the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday.