The Timbers had struggled to find a lead striker to replace Fanendo Adi since trading him to FC Cincinnati in 2017.
That transaction opened up playing time for Jeremy Ebobisse who, after starting off the MLS is Back Tournament on fire, now appears poised to lead the Timbers offensive attack for the foreseeable future.
So far, Ebobisse has scored in both of Portland’s games in the group stage, each goal fueling victories for the boys in green, including a gorgeous strike against Houston.
«The goal today was a different level,» said Diego Valeri after the 2-1 win against the Dynamo.
Ebobisse’s improvement has earned him more playing time with him starting as the team’s lead striker so far in the tournament.
«He’s earned it,» said head coach Giovanni Savarese. «He has earned, he has worked hard, he has shown development every single year. In 2018 when he came in against Colorado, he showed that he wanted to be in Portland. I think that in the finals we spoke and there were things that maybe he could have shown a little bit more, so he showed still that he needed to mature.»
In 2019, Ebobisse showed the Timbers what they needed to see to commit to him long term. He started in 25 games, played in 34, and scored 11 goals which lead the team, tied with Brian Fernandez who got cut by the Timbers due to «failure to comply with the league’s substance abuse and behavioral health (SABH) program.»
Now in 2020, Ebobisse has made an even greater impact on the pitch.
«Last year, a tremendous season. A player that played basically every single game. This year, he started with an even higher level, so the competition up top is difficult for me because I think everybody is fighting to be able to play. [Ebobisse] has deserved it and another good goal today that was important for us.»
Savarese wasn’t the only one to notice the striker’s improvement. Diego Valeri echoed his coach’s praise.
«It’s always nice to see Jebo play there, actually sometimes he played really hard against the two central backs alone, and allowed us to be more in the middle, and he holds that position. So it’s been amazing in this tournament,» said Valeri. «I’m very happy about the striker scoring goals… I’m very happy about his improvement, he’s a very mature guy and I’m sure that he is going to give us a lot of happiness to our team.»
It’s been a gradual rise for Ebobisse, who was drafted fourth overall in the 2017 Supplemental MLS Draft by Portland, but he did see significant minutes earlier than expected after Adi suffered a season-ending injury, causing Ebobisee to start for the top-seeded Timbers in the MLS Playoffs.
However, the offensive attack struggled against the Dynamo in the Western Conference Semifinals, failing to get a goal in Houston and losing the game in Rose City, 2-1.
In 2018, under new head coach Savarese, Ebobisse began to increase his role on the team scoring five goals in nine appearances for the club during the regular season, and starting all six postseason games, scoring once, before Portland would lose to Atlanta 2-0 in the 2018 MLS Cup.
In his third season as a Timber, Ebobisee would break out with eleven goals paving the way for him to take hold of the starting striker duties heading into 2020, which the 23-year old has done.
Ebobisse has stayed focused on the task at hand as well: the next opponent and winning the MLS is Back Tournament.
«It’s been acknowledged that we didn’t have a perfect start to the season, with one win and one loss and maybe not playing as well as we could have,» said Ebobisse. «But this past quarantine break everyone’s been real serious, and we’ve regrouped and I think that that’s shown in the first two games. Obviously, we still have a challenging game against LAFC, and who knows how we’re going to approach it and, you know, whoever whatever plays. We need to make sure we get three points again to keep that momentum going into the knockout rounds because we want to make a good run.»