The Portland Timbers midfielder has faced adversity, but it's only made him hungrier.
In September 2020, Portland Timbers midfielder Dairon Asprilla suffered a tragic loss. His father and one of his biggest supporters, Arcadio Asprilla Ibarguen, passed away.
"After my father's passing, I'm not sure what happened but it was almost like an explosion of different things within me," he says. "From there on out I have been fighting for everything I've ever wanted."
His heart aching, Asprilla says he used his loss as fuel to grow, both professionally and personally. It showed. In 2021, a year after his father's passing, fans named him the Timbers Army Player of the Year.
"What I lived through that year was like an atomic bomb," he recalls now. "From there I began to understand certain things. I believe that if you focus on what you want, on your future, and work hard, you can achieve what you've been longing for. I now believe that at my base is hard work, the confidence from my coaches and my teammates who have molded me into a stronger person so that I can continue fighting anything that tries to hold me down."
Dairon Asprilla arrived in Portland as a young and shy 22-year-old looking to make an impact in a foreign league. While playing in the Colombian Categoria Primera A with Alianza Petrolera, the Istmina, Colombia native had caught Timbers scouts' attention with his dynamic play on the wings and at forward. And after playing an influential role in Alianza's ascension into Colombia's top soccer division in 2013, he signed with Portland in December of 2014.
Apart from a one-year loan to Colombian club Millonarios in 2016—a year in which he still played 9 games for the Timbers—Asprilla, now 30, has spent nearly a decade in the Rose City. After weeks of rehabilitation following preseason surgery on his right knee, he made his long-awaited 2023 debut in the 1-1 draw at FC Dallas on Saturday, April 1. He substituted in the 61st minute, providing a 92nd minute assist for the equalizer and helping the team earn its first road point of the season.
Asprilla sat with us and spoke candidly about his injury, getting ready to be match-ready, and the fire that fuels his desire to continue succeeding in Soccer City, USA.
"I got to Colombia [in the 2022 offseason] and tested positive for COVID-19, something I was not expecting. I was isolated at home for seven days," he says. "After that [isolation period] I began my training, but physically it felt almost like going from less to more. COVID hit me really hard this time, different from my previous experience. I think it had a big influence on my injury. Being so weakened and doing full-strength training may have played a part in my injury happening."
Asprilla was active in preseason training, appearing on the squad list for a January 21st friendly against Sporting Kansas City in Arizona. But as the 2023 Coachella Valley Invitational preseason tournament began in Indio, California in early February, Asprilla had discomfort in his right knee. Four days later, the club informed Asprilla that surgery would be necessary.
Dealing with an injury so close to the beginning of a campaign can be tough for professional athletes. Asprilla however, has taken it as a learning experience.
"I have been calm, despite it being difficult. All the time I've missed due to injury I've tried to take it with calmness," he says. "There are personal situations that can sometimes influence the mood while dealing with an injury, but I try and work at 100 percent and give the best of myself. At the same time I remain patient to be able to start back up again."
"In all honesty I feel great, thanks to God," he continues. "The assessments [the medical staff] did during my rehabilitation were fundamental. The fact that I was surrounded by my teammates motivated me to come back even stronger."
The Colombian has overcome other tough moments and obstacles over the years, including the challenge of adapting to new teams and new countries.
"It was very difficult arriving in another country with a new language, one that I still don't grasp well," he says. "But I think having Diego Chara [around], a leader at the club, has influenced me a lot. Chara's family primarily, then the club, my teammates, the coaching and facility staff I've encountered. Every one of them provided me with confidence despite the difficulty of having just arrived [in the United States]."
"There were times where maybe I didn't make the appropriate choices," he adds. "Not because I was a bad person, but because I wanted to be given the opportunity to play. I ended up having to return to Colombia [in 2016], but once I was there I was bored. I wanted to be in Portland. I was given the opportunity to return [in 2017] and in a way, I returned as a new Dairon."
Asprilla returned stronger than ever before, even as the challenges continued.
On and off the field, Asprilla has evolved in Portland, overcoming tough moments and obstacles over the years. But for every setback he faced, Asprilla came back stronger. In 2021 and 2022, he scored 10 goals in consecutive seasons and has affectionately been dubbed "Mr. October" by supporters for his late-season and post-season heroics. He's also established himself as a mentor of sorts, helping younger players like fellow Colombian Santiago Moreno adapt to the new team.
“It has been more about telling [Santi] what I’ve been through here,” Asprilla said in 2022 about his friendship with Moreno. “I’ve had great moments, and also not so great ones. I’ve tried to share that with him, to make sure he doesn’t make bad decisions.”
Now, with just 30 minutes of regular season action and an assist to his name, Asprilla is ready to grow again.
"I want to do what I have always done: give everything I've got. I love this club and the game. It has brought me many good things. I'd like to be the [MLS Cup] champion again. I know we have fallen short twice, but we continue to work for it. We don't like to fall short. We will work as a team to strive for silverware and good results."
With much of the regular season still ahead and a horizon filled with opportunity, Asprilla has a message for Portland fans.
"First of all, I want to give thanks for all the support and kindness, for everything you've given me. It was not easy to reach this level of connection with you all, but nevertheless we are here. I must give thanks for the vote of confidence you have all placed in me. I will continue to give 100 percent to pay back all that you've given to me."