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‘I can really grow as a player here:’ Eryk Williamson on his future in Portland

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Williamson had a breakout year in 2020. Now he has the chance to build on it.

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Portland Timbers v San Jose Earthquakes

It was the most that Eryk Williamson had ever sweat. He said that if you had seen him you would’ve thought he was getting ready to play a match at Providence Park. But he wasn’t. He was just putting pen to paper so that he could confirm that the stadium would be his home for the foreseeable future.

Williamson signed a multi-year contract extension with the Portland Timbers on Thursday, and it’s one that he earned with his play in 2020. He broke out with three goals and six assists across all competitions. He had the game-winning assist against Orlando City at the MLS is Back Tournament. He was a constant presence in Portland’s midfield, and now it’ll stay that way.

“It’s massive,” Williamson said. “We’ve been having this conversation for a little bit of time, of what’s next, and I know I had a good year last year, but I think it’s one to build on.”

Building on a solid 2020 is something both Williamson and the Timbers organization look forward to. General manager and president of soccer Gavin Wilkinson said in an interview with Matt Pentz of The Athletic that they brought Williamson to Portland in 2018 not based on what he was, but what he could be. It was a bet that the now 23-year-old midfielder would become an integral part of the club’s future.

And now, after stints in the USL with Timbers 2 and abroad with C.D. Santa Clara, Williamson has security and a clear role with Portland. He has the chance to continue learning and growing as a player with a club that he feels has supported him every step of the way.

“It’s probably the most fun I’ve had playing soccer,” Williamson said about his time so far in Portland. “Being able learn from guys like (Diego) Chara ... but also the relationships I have with a lot of the guys, Seba (Sebastian Blanco), (Diego) Valeri, Jeremy (Ebobisse) ... Being able to play for a few more years together is just super exciting.”

With his future secure, Williamson’s focus now shifts to improving on the pitch. Williamson noted that he wants to improve his production on both sides of the ball, upping his goal and assist tallies while staying solid on defense. He watches players like Tyler Adams, a midfielder playing for the U.S. National team and RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga, and sees how he can develop his game to be more effective on the field. Becoming that two-way threat is something Williamson aspires to.

“He’s one of the guys I want to mold my game around,” Williamson said. “But also looking back at myself and just realizing it’s two different playing styles and ultimately growing in the areas we’ve discussed.”

Knowing that Williamson will be in Portland is a win for the club, especially as more and more players find their way to Europe. Uncertainty surrounding the current CBA makes that move easier — although it seems the MLS and MLSPA will agree to terms soon, something Williamson mentioned during his press conference. While Williamson admitted it was something he pondered, he still felt that Portland was best for him right now, even if Europe is the end-goal.

“I feel like I can really grow as a player here,” Williamson said. “No one knows what the future holds, but potentially if we continue our success here in Portland then maybe I’m optimistic of anything happening or coming up in Europe.”

Maybe Williamson will make his way to Europe someday, but for now Portland is his home. Williamson has worked hard to earn this kind of opportunity. In the world of sports, he noted that it often feels like a rollercoaster in terms of confidence. Knowing the Timbers have this kind of trust in him has certainly been a boost for Williamson’s confidence.

“I can trust them to go with anything, whether it’s positive or negative, and they will always tell me what they think,” Williamson said. “Being able to have an organization and a front office, coaching staff, that believe in me is just massive and ultimately it will really help me grow as a soccer player.”