Tega Ikoba and his debut goal in MLS

The Timbers' youngest-ever goalscorer walks us through the moment.
March 18, 2023: Tega Ikoba in Atlanta

19-year-old Tega Ikoba introduced his goalscoring prowess to the league on March 18.

Ikoba became the youngest goalscorer in the Portland Timbers' MLS history. His goal in the 83rd minute against Atlanta United cemented his name in the Timbers record books, and officially opened his top-flight scorebook.

Even with the eventual loss, his clinical header past Brad Guzan won the endearment of fans across the league with the celebration of his family in the stands. In a viral moment, Ikoba's older brother Daniel made it clear to those at Mercedes-Benz Stadium that it was his brother striking the back of the net.

Born in Bettendorf, Iowa, and then growing up in Alabama, Tega was first scouted by Portland in his teen years while playing in U.S. national team camps. After joining the academy at 16, Ikoba honed his craft over the next couple years. He had solid participations with Timbers2 in the 2020 USL season, and a year later in the NCAA with the University of North Carolina.

Following his successful lone collegiate season, it was evident to both Tega and the Timbers that he was built for MLS. On January 11, 2022 both club and player committed to the next step, and signed the then 18 year-old to his first top-flight contract. He is now the fourth Timbers Academy prospect to sign a Homegrown Player contract since the team's MLS debut. After making his debut in May of last year, it was only a matter of when, not if he would net his first professional goal.

We talked to Ikoba and ask him to share a little about what that experience was like.

February 22, 2023: Tega Ikoba at training

What you were feeling once the coaching staff let you know you were coming on?

Tega Ikoba: "I was really excited because I knew that with the depth right now there would be opportunity, so I was excited to go on. I wasn't as nervous as I thought I'd be, with everybody who has supported me and all the work I've put in training, I was ready. I remember I felt a little bit of nervousness right when I was on the sideline , but as soon as I stepped in and started running, everything went away. I was in the game."

Walk us through the goal-scoring play. What was your thought process?

"I saw Diego [Gutierrez] had the ball and he looked like he was about to cross it so I made a run to the back post. When I saw him cut it back I knew I had to change my run to gain more space so when he cut it back I changed my position and dropped back a little bit off of the Atlanta United defender's shoulder and created the space.

"When the ball came to me I jumped up and tried to put my head on the ball. I almost didn't expect it, it came a lot faster. I saw it leave his foot and then next thing I know it's right in my face. I thought [Guzan] was going to throw his body in the way, but the ball was pretty well placed so when it crossed the line I was just like 'wow, that ball scored just came off my body'. It was just a big mix of emotions."

February 22, 2023: Head coach Giovanni Savarese embraces Tega Ikoba

The season is still young. What do you see yourself accomplishing this year?

"We're only a few games in so really in my mind that goal [against Atlanta] helps me so much. As a striker, I've always thrived once I get one chance and I put it away [into the net]. It boosts my confidence and I play better as a result. I'm hoping I can get more goals with every chance I get. I hope that I can put the ball in the net in front of our fans and those who are there to support me."

Everyone saw the heartwarming video of your family celebrating your first goal in the stands. Can you tell us how it felt to see it yourself and what does it mean to you?

"I saw my siblings after the game, my brothers Daniel, Mudia, and Arho. They all came up to me and were really loving and supportive. They were like, 'Good job, you did it!' My sister was like, 'Hey Daniel, show him the video' and he pulls out his phone and told me the fan next to them got their reaction to my goal. I remember hearing him cheer 'that's my brother!'.

It was honestly really emotional to me, for that to be recorded on camera because that's a memory I will always have in my heart."