Sitting in his hotel room in Costa Rica, Portland Timbers forward Jeremy Ebobisse could only watch on his laptop as his new team routed Minnesota United FC 5-1 in front of a typically raucous Providence Park crowd.
That's because Ebobisse–the fourth overall pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft–spent most of the last month training and playing with the U.S. U-20 Men's National Team, which on March 5 defeated Honduras on penalty kicks to win the first CONCACAF U-20 Championship in program history.
Things in Costa Rica, however, got off to a far rockier start.
In the team's opening match against Panama, the U-20s failed to convert their chances and lost a tight game 1-0. The outlook appeared bleak with challenges ahead.
Ebobisse and his teammates, though, had different plans.
“There was just something missing after the first game that we couldn't quite come up with,” Ebobisse said. “We sat down together after dinner [the night after the Panama match] and had a little team meeting and basically talked about how we needed to move forward, what we needed to do.
“I think that pivotal moment [in the tournament] was after our first game...coming together and just venting a little bit of our frustrations.”
The U-20s never looked back after that difficult start against Panama, winning each of their next five matches, including an historic semifinal victory over Mexico that was the team's first against El Tri in the CONCACAF U-20 Championship since 1986.
It was that match, Ebobisse now says, that propelled the U-20s all the way to the final against Honduras.
“We kind of put a little bit of pressure on ourselves mentally because of the U.S.-Mexico rivalry and how the U.S. hadn't beaten Mexico at a U-20 Championship in quite a bit,” he said. “Knowing that, we came out and executed our game plan down to the wire and didn't give them an inch of space.”
With the win in the final against Honduras, the U.S. secured its place at the FIFA 2017 U-20 World Cup in South Korea this May.
We're bringing home the 🏆— U.S. Soccer YNT (@ussoccer_ynt) March 6, 2017
But first, team selfie 🤳🏼 pic.twitter.com/1IXp8QaGbQ
But despite having started five of his team's six matches in Costa Rica, Ebobisse himself remains cautious about his spot in the team ahead of the May tournament. Having been through so much with the U-20s, he says, it would mean everything for him to get the chance to play once again with his teammates in Korea.
“I think we have a very special group that can have similar success on the world stage,” he said. “So I really want to be a part of that.”
More immediately, though, Ebobisse has now been integrating into a new group of players here in Portland.
“I think the team has really welcomed me back with open arms and they've made it really easy for me to feel like I'm at home again,” he said.
“I've [watched] a lot of people that I look up to and how they come in and do their business,” he added about his limited time training with the Timbers. “I think that as a young player, if I'm off my game and I'm not focused and paying attention to the rules and whatnot, I think people will hold me accountable to that and I think that's what's really important to my development.”
And his latest task may be the biggest yet of his young career.
The rookie, who had previously only spent time training with the Timbers in Tucson earlier in the preseason, now must battle day-in and day-out with seasoned professionals.
Ebobisse seems ready for that challenge.
“[The team won MLS Cup] in 2015 and we're trying to get back to the mountain top and I want to contribute in whatever way I can,” he said. “Whatever my role's going to be this season, I just want to make sure that I'm doing everything I can to push myself and push my teammates and get where we need to be.”