VANCOUVER, B.C. – Last offseason, Portland Timbers coach Caleb Porter said one of his roster goals was to fill each position three deep, with at least one of those players being under 23.
With the Timbers shorthanded–they were missing 12 players due to injuries, international duty and red-card suspensions Sunday–Jeremy Ebobisse's performance in a 2-1 win vs. the Vancouver Whitecaps affirmed that strategy.
Ebobisse was given a doozy of an assignment for his first MLS start, on the road at a Cascadian rival with the shorthanded Timbers desperate for a result after going winless in six straight.
The 20-year-old merely responded with a goal and an assist, showing why the the Timbers traded $100,000 of allocation money, an international spot, and their own first round draft pick to move up in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft to snag him fourth overall. Ebobisse was quick to recognize his teammates' assistance in helping him prepare for the match.
"I felt a little bit of pressure," he said after the match. "[But] the team was great. They had my back the entire time. Early on, when I was just finding my feet I was making a lot of mistakes but they kept supporting me and eventually I felt the rewards of that support and I was really happy with the way the game went."
"We thought he had a lot of talent when we drafted him,” Porter said after the game. “It’s good for the club to know we have a young horse in the stable is that will continue to get better.”
While Sunday was Ebobisse’s first start and only fourth appearance with the first team, he continues to get minutes with Portland's Timbers 2 USL squad. He also put in a 71-minute shift in Portland's 2-1 U.S. Open Cup defeat to the Seattle Sounders last month.
“It helps that we can get him games in T2,” Porter says. “That’s why we created T2.”
Ebobisse may not return to the gameday 18 once Adi and Mattocks return, but Porter says he is a full participant at team trainings, and that he makes sure to check in often with the youngster to keep him feeling connected to the first team.
On Sunday, that appeared to pay off.
“You’re always auditioning for parts,” Porter said. “Whether it’s 5 minutes or 90 minutes. You build a case and make a statement. [Ebobisse made] a very good statement in his first start.”
If he continues to raise his level and the opportunity arises for Ebobisse, Porter stated matter of factly, “We won’t hesitate to play him.”