Felipe Mora makes his Providence Park comeback against NYCFC

After recovering from two separate knee surgeries, forward Felipe Mora finally made his long-awaited return to action.

Many Timbers fans will still likely be able to picture the moment. New York City Football Club holding a 1-0 lead in the 2021 MLS Cup Final at Providence Park as the final seconds of the season ticked away. The feeling of helplessness as a late, goal-bound effort from Jaroslaw Niezgoda bounced off a nearby defender and then watching the ball deflect tantalizingly into the middle of the Timbers’ penalty box. In those fleeting seconds, time stood still.

Then forward Felipe Mora reacted, instinctively peeling off his defender and striking the ball with enough force to put it past then-NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson with the final kick of regulation. As elation filled the air, the Chilean processed the moment by sprinting to the Southeast corner of Providence Park before collapsing to his knees in tears processing what he had just done. He extended his team a lifeline in the biggest game of its season, scoring one of the most memorable goals in club history. It was the highest of highs.

Since that mid-December day, Mora has experienced his fare share of lows, too. He didn’t play another game until June 18, 2022, 189 days after his MLS Cup Final heroics, due to a knee injury. His 2022 season ended not even two months later, on August 3, 2022, when he underwent yet another season-ending knee surgery. The last time Mora took the field in green and gold came on July 30, 2022, in the Timbers 4-4 draw against Minnesota United.

That prolonged absence ended Saturday night in the Timbers 1-1 draw against NYCFC. For those who watched the moment unfold, Mora coming on to replace Marvin Loría in the 76th minute to rapturous applause, it was impossible to miss the subtle significance of the locale, and opponent, on the opposite sideline.

“Truthfully, everything was pretty difficult,” Mora said in Spanish. “I love to play soccer. I love to practice with my teammates. But I have given my all to the recovery, spending a lot of time with family… I’m really happy that I made my return.”

Mora, who arrived in Portland following a three-season stint in Mexico’s LigaMX - most recently with UNAM Pumas - provided the Timbers with an immediate threat at the center forward position. In 2020, his first season with the Timbers, Mora netted seven goals. He followed that up with a 13-goal, five-assist season in 2021. When healthy and at his best, Mora adds a goal-scoring threat to the Timbers front line who is also capable of dropping deeper and combining with midfield to help advance the ball. He has played both a single-striker and two-striker formation.

The Chilean forward’s return gives Savarese another option up top as he tries to re-jigger an attack that has put the ball in the back of the net just four times in the past eight games. Portland’s other striker options include Niezgoda and Nathan Fogaça as well as Franck Boli – the forward responsible for three of the four goals the club has scored since a 3-1 win against Vancouver on May 13.

Mora looked immediately dangerous in his 14-minute appearance against NYCFC. He nearly got a toe to the rebound of a powerful shot by Evander that NYCFC’s goalkeeper couldn’t immediately corral. Playing alongside both Boli and then Fogaca, there were moments in which Mora combined well with a teammate and others in which he played off a defender’s back shoulder himself before slipping into space.

“I’m glad to have another quality player who is available,” coach Giovanni Savarese said. “Especially Felipe. We know how important he has been and he was only available for 20 minutes today. Hopefully he continues to build up in the minutes and continue to have a competition in that position.”

In the moments before Mora entered the field, Savarese congratulated the forward on his comeback, gave him a few instructions and sent him on. The crowd at Providence Park grew louder as they saw him walk from the bench to the sideline and it was difficult to miss the giant Chilean flag hung over the walls in the North End, hung in anticipation of that very moment.


Before the whistle blew to restart play, Mora reflected on the past two years: the grueling recoveries from a pair of knee surgeries, long days at the Timbers training facility in Beaverton and countless conversations with friends and family. A past conversation with his doctor may have crossed his mind, too.

“At the beginning it was very frustrating for [Mora] because he didn’t feel okay,” Savarese said. “But I think something happened after the second surgery. Something positive was told to him by a doctor, that he will most likely come back and be strong again. From that point he has been very hungry to come back and do the work.”

In November 2022, not long after Mora underwent his second knee surgery, the Timbers offered the forward a contract extension through 2025 with a club option through 2026. The extension is a visual representation of the faith the organization has in the Mora and what the coaching staff knows he is capable of when healthy.

And so, as much as Friday night’s short spell against NYCFC is a sign of positive progress, it also marked a significant step forward for a striker looking to move past two frustrating knee surgeries and recover the feeling he experienced two years ago when he scored in that MLS Cup Final and sank to his knees in tears all while being mobbed by his teammates.

“The only thing today would have been that if he scored and we won 2-1,” Savarese said with a grin. "It would have been the best possible day.”