Some of Marco Farfan’s most important moments as a Portland Timber happened away from the field. January 18, 2019, was a good example.
It was the offseason — a time when the Timbers usually fade from the spotlight — but that afternoon in Aloha, Farfan took centerstage. It was after the day’s classes, at the front of an Aloha High classroom, in front of a group of Latina students who embraced the then-20-year-old as an icon. This was a kid from Gresham, an Aloha-esque suburb on the opposite side of Portland, who was regularly playing games at Providence Park. To those students, Marco Farfan had already made it.
There are many Timbers fans who’ll harbor a feeling of “what if” in the wake of Sunday’s news - confirmation that Farfan’s next MLS game will be for someone other than the Portland Timbers’. But what ifs shouldn’t diminish what Farfan became in Portland. It shouldn’t diminish what he became to Portland, nor should it diminish the connection we have to his future. As fans, our investment in Farfan doesn’t end because he’s changing uniforms.
The investment started on October 16, 2016, when Farfan became the first Timbers Academy player to sign a Homegrown deal. It accelerated quickly on March 12, 2017, when he was given a surprise debut, and steadily, over his five seasons in Portland, that investment grew. Until a knee injury in 2019, Farfan’s minutes played increased each MLS season, doing so despite the Timbers moving to a model that made roster depth one of its primary goals. As veterans like Jorge Villafaña left and returned, and the needs of the team shifted from one fullback position to another, Farfan fought, adapted, and won minutes. The 854 he played in the 2020 season was another career-high mark.
His progress went beyond the minutes. Physically, he has transformed. Most teenagers do, but the potential we saw in Farfan’s 17-year-old self has blossomed into somebody who can handle MLS’s challenges. The slow improvements made on training grounds and Timbers 2 road trips have led to better one-on-one defending, and improved awareness on both sides of his center backs. The demands at USL level by T2 staff asked him to be imposing with the ball going forward. Those demands left him ready to claim more time as his MLS team evolved.
From outside the Timbers’ Beaverton training center, those strides weren’t always obvious, so it was fair to wonder about Farfan’s arc. But there were signs that those who saw Farfan in person were starting to take notice. They came not only in the minutes he won for Portland but the chances he had to compete on an international level, for both the United States’ under-23s and, this fall, his country’s full senior squad. With his appearance last week against El Salvador, one of Farfan’s dreams came true. He now has an appearance in red, white and blue.
With Sunday’s announcement, it’s clear at least one other MLS team noticed Farfan, too. Teams don’t usually give up healthy amounts of General Allocation Money unless they think a player can contribute. Though over the last two years, Farfan had to fight for time against the names like Villafaña, Valentin, Bonilla and Duvall, but Los Angeles FC still took notice. They had a place for what Farfan has become.
To read Sunday’s trade as a sign Portland didn’t have a place would be a step too far, but as team president Gavin Wilkinson alluded last week, this was a move that was done with the Farfan’s future in mind. Amid the intricacies of managing a roster, balancing resources within a salary cap, and deciding on contracts that inform players’ futures, a number of elements have a fit to be right. A player’s personal plan may be the most important.
“It’s been a dream playing for my hometown club and being part of the Portland Timbers’ organization ...,” Farfan said, in a statement released by the club. “I’m very proud of the group accomplishments and the individual lessons learned these last few years, but I am also excited for the future and the next chapter in my career.”
As sports fans, we see how those careers play out. It’s rare that a player only wears one uniform, and while the connection Farfan had to Portland makes him a rarity on that level, the reality of his progress has led to something else. There may have always been a time when, to become the best player he could be, Farfan would need the next challenge. Unfortunately for Timbers fans, that time appears to be now.
It will be strange to root for a player who has swapped green for black, but there’s no question: We’ll all still root for Farfan. Unless he’s facing Portland, he’ll have his hometown’s full support. Even when he’s back at Providence Park, with his team using the south bench instead of the north, there’ll be part of us which, kept silent for hours between kickoff and whistle, will want the best for Marco.
Switching teams isn’t enough. It’s going to take more to lose that support. Farfan’s time with the Timbers may be over, but he will always be part of Portland.