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Nathan’s Delightful Debut

Could the newly signed Brazilian forward be the key to unlocking the Timbers’ attack moving forward?

MLS: Sporting Kansas City at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

After an underwhelming start to the season, the Portland Timbers’ 2022 campaign roared to life against Sporting Kansas City, sending seven goals past a hapless Tim Melia in what was their most efficient attacking performance in recent memory. Wjile Sebastian Blanco’s two-goal, two-assist display deservedly earned him MLS Player of the Week, Nathan Fogaça’s brace was my biggest takeaway from the match.

Scoring a goal for your team is the most difficult thing for a striker to do in soccer. You need not look any further than the Timbers’ stuttering start to the 2022 season to show you that. Even more difficult than scoring? Doing it twice in a league that you’ve never played in, as a 22-year-old, having only been a member of your team for 10 days. And that is exactly what Nathan did last Saturday.

His first goal for the club was the direct result of something the Timbers have yet to produce consistently this year: direct runs behind the opposition backline found by accurate, well-timed through-balls. The entire time that Blanco is carrying the ball forward, Nathan is pointing for the ball to be played directly into the space between both of SKC’s center backs.

Nathan’s second goal came from an intricate team move filled with one- and two-touch passing with Blanco once more at the heart of it. But again it was finished off due to Nathan’s ability to recognize the need for a run behind the SKC backline.

Equally as impressive as both of his goals was Nathan’s ability to slot into the starting XI and immediately look like he’s been playing with the Timbers as long as anyone else on the pitch. To put it simply, he is a prototypical forward for the system Giovanni Savarese likes to play with: runs with pace, pressing high up the pitch without the ball, and ever-willing to put in the hard yards tracking back on defense. This was evident from the very first minutes of the game, when Nathan nearly caught Tim Melia out with the ball after sprinting about 15 yards to close him down in the eighth minute, and then three minutes later when he did the exact same thing to Roger Espinoza to draw a free kick for the Timbers.

I don’t mean to single any one player out, but the aforementioned attributes that Nathan showed against SKC partnered with his willingness to make runs beyond the opposition’s defense are exactly what the Timbers have lacked this season with Jaroslaw Niezgoda on the pitch. Don’t get me wrong: I am a big Niezgoda fan, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the team put in their best performance of the season with a more mobile forward willing to apply pace in both attacking and pressing scenarios.

Time will tell whether or not Nathan can cement himself as a regular starter and scorer for the Timbers, but one thing is for sure: He has all of the physical attributes to do so. Hopefully his debut is a sign of things to come.