Portland Timbers fans are slowly becoming accustomed to seeing Jeremy Ebobisse’s name linked with the U.S. Men's National Team, whether it be via the U-20 World Cup team he was a part of two years ago or his recent debut with the senior team, in January. But when, last Friday, the U.S.’s U-23s took the field in Spain ahead of their first match of the 2020 Summer Olympics qualifying cycle, Portland’s representation went well beyond their 2017 MLS SuperDraft selection.
Marco Farfan was part of that starting XI and went on to make two appearances in Spain, playing the first 45 minutes of the U.S.’s 2-0 loss to Egypt on Mar. 22 before playing the final period in the team’s 0-0 draw with the Netherlands, two days later. Fellow Timbers teammate Eryk Williamson was also part of the group, playing 45 minutes against Egypt, while Ebobisse saw three halves’ action across the team’s time in Iberia.
Concacaf’s Olympic qualifying tournament is still seven months away, and in terms of head coach Jason Kreis’ personnel, the U.S.’ picture could look drastically different come fall. But for the first time since Portland moved to MLS in 2011, there are a number of Timbers in position to contribute to a major U-level squad, a reality that wasn’t lost on Farfan.
“It’s a huge honor to be wearing the crest, especially to have two teammates by my side with Eryk and Jebo,” the Timbers Homegrown Player said from Spain, before his U-23 debut. “I think it’s up to us to keep performing and keep showing the best we can so we can keep staying within the group and can keep getting called into future camps, so we can work toward the goal of going to Olympic qualifiers and qualifying with the group.”
Only four players in camp were younger than Farfan, whose two years’ experience across Major League Soccer and the United Soccer League help bridge the gap in age. That he earned 90 minutes across two games, though, showed his ability to compete at the U-23 level, something that isn’t surprising given what the 20-year-old sees every day in training with the Timbers.
“Yeah, there are a couple of guys who are older than me, obviously,” he said, “but it’s the same thing as if I was back in Portland. Almost everybody is older than me, as well. Some of these guys have been called up into the [senior] team …
“I just have to try and show my best and try to perform my best this week, because it’s a big opportunity.”
Williamson has seen opportunities like this before, something that gives him a unique perspective on this latest shot. A member of team that won the Concacaf U-20 Championship in 2017, Williamson saw his career reset in 2018. He left the University of Maryland early, turned professional, had his rights traded from D.C. United to Portland and, after spending time with T2 in the USL, finished his 2018 on loan in Portugal.
With no MLS minutes logged in his first professional season, Williamson was unsure where he stood within the national team setup. The U-23 call-up answered any lingering doubts.
“It felt great hearing the news that I got called into another national team camp,” he said, from Spain. “This is the first camp since the U-20 World Cup. It’s good to still be in the group and within the national team.
“Not getting minutes in MLS, I felt I was going off the radar. But it’s good to know that I’m still there. This selection is actually really huge … It’s a great opportunity for me to continue to push myself to stay in the youth national team.”
In that way, the U-23 call-ups meant something different to Farfan and Williamson – and, likely Ebobisse, too, with his January cap for the senior side putting him on a slightly different course, for now. Yet the commonality each shares is the 2018 experience that led them to Spain: training with the Timbers; having to earn time through T2; sharing that process with each other.
“It feels really good to be able to share this experience with Marco and Jeremy,” Williamson said, echoing Farfan. “Both are guys that have been getting minutes in MLS and are amazing players. It shows that these guys are clearly doing things right at a high level.
“It definitely changed [the experience of national team camp], to an extent, because I’m a little more comfortable with these guys here. We always push each other in training in Portland, and I know we’ll continue to do the same, here.”