Since his arrival from Alianza Petrolera in 2014, Dairon Asprilla has developed a reputation as something of a cult hero amongst Timbers fans. In fact, Asprilla has been the architect of several of the club’s greatest post-season moments since the Timbers joined MLS in 2011.
You would be hard-pressed to find a supporter of the club who doesn’t remember the Colombian forward’s incredible goal against FC Dallas during the 2015 MLS Cup-winning playoff run: a swerving strike from 25 yards out that left former Dallas keeper Jesse Gonzalez rooted to the ground.
And who could forget Asprilla’s 2018 Western Conference Final appearance against the Sounders in Seattle, which saw him power a header home in the 93rd minute of the match before blasting the winning penalty past Stefan Frei in the shootout, knocking them out of the playoffs?
In total, Asprilla has scored four goals and assisted another four in 14 post-season appearances for the Timbers across his six full seasons with the club. But while his playoff exploits are well-documented, Asprilla’s time in Portland has been largely inconsistent and filled with ups and downs.
In 2016, Asprilla was sent out on a season-long loan to Colombian first-division side Millonarios F.C.amid speculation from fans and journalists surrounding his future with the Timbers after a lackluster two-goal, two-assist return from his first 33 games with the team.
When Asprilla returned from his loan spell in June 2017, issues regarding consistency and end-product continued to plague him. This was highlighted by a decline in MLS regular-season appearances, starts, and minutes played for four consecutive seasons from 2017 to 2020. In that time, Asprilla only notched five goals and five assists throughout 60 games.
Asprilla’s then-stuttering Timbers career took another blow after tearing his medial meniscus during the 2020 MLS regular season, an injury that forced him to miss 47 games from May 20 to Nov. 3, 2020.
Having said all that, it seems like Asprilla is starting to put all of that inconsistency behind him.
Since his return from injury in 2020, Asprilla has enjoyed what has been his best statistical season in Green and Gold thus far. He’s played 1,410 minutes through 24 MLS games so far this season, which is the most minutes he has logged during any one season in Portland, and more than he played in the last three seasons combined. Out of 24 games, 17 have been starts, which ties his most starts in any one season with the Timbers. Asprilla’s five goals in 2021 are also equal to the same amount he scored from 2017 to 2020, and his two assists are the most he has registered in one season since 2017.
But to me, more impressive than any of his stats, is the newfound swagger and confidence that Asprilla is currently playing with. It’s as if he had an epiphany during the offseason, and now realizes what many Timbers fans have wanted him to show in years before that he his is bigger, faster, stronger, and better in the air than the majority of the fullbacks he encounters running down the wing any given week.
(For any Premier League fans, Asprilla’s 2021 season has really reminded me of the season Adama Traore had for Wolves in 2019/2020, in that he has finally added an end product to the speed and power in his game.)
It finally seems like Asprilla knows that he is most dangerous operating as the team’s pressure release valve on the counter, whether that’s using his strength to post-up his defender and play in his teammates, or using his speed and directness to get to the goal line and cut balls back across the six-yard box — which is exactly what led to Blanco’s stoppage time equalizer against Colorado on Wednesday.
Asprilla’s stellar play so far this season has seen him cement himself as the starter on the left side of the Timbers’ attack, which has led to several major knock-on effects for the team.
Alongside Mora staking his claim as the Timbers’ starting striker, and the addition of Santiago Moreno during the summer transfer window, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that Asprilla’s play this year was partially responsible for the Timbers’ front office being comfortable with trading fan-favorite Jeremy Ebobisse to San Jose. Asprilla starting on the left wing has also allowed for Blanco to be moved into the number 10 position, which has helped to ease the decline in Diego Valeri’s goal and assist output.
In short, the work that Asprilla has put in to achieve this surge in form is something that deserves praise and admiration. He has overcome being loaned out, public criticism from fans and journalists, and a major knee injury. Once a largely inconsistent fringe member of the squad, Asprilla has become one of the standout players in the Timbers’ attack this season.