New Timbers forward Samuel Armenteros ready to leave Serie A behind, find happiness in Portland

BEAVERTON, Ore. – Striker Samuel Armenteros spent his first night in Portland recovering from a trans-Atlantic flight, but on his second night in the Rose City, the Timbers’ latest signing was sharing in a quintessential NBA experience: Leaving a game too early, trying to beat the crowd only to check his phone to see the score had swung in the game’s final minutes.

“I was like, ‘The Trail Blazers are good, they’re up,'” Armenteros remembered thinking in the final moments of regulation, when the Blazers appeared to have their game with the Charlotte Hornets in hand. “Let’s get a cab before thousands of people leave at the same time.

“So we left, then I check my phone: Overtime. Oh, my God!”

Portland went on to beat their guests in overtime, 109-103, but they did so only after many at Moda Center had followed Armenteros’ lead.

“I would have loved to see the end,” he was left to lament.

Twelve hours later, the 27-year-old had begun his first training session in Portland, a practice that coincided with the official news: On loan for a season (with an option to buy in the future), Armenteros had completed his move to MLS, joining the Timbers from Serie A’s Benevento.

“There’s been a little bit of a jet lag, to put it that way,” Armenteros explained. “Sleepless nights, since it’s nine hours earlier here than it was at home. But it feels great to be here. Finally, I get the move that I have been awaiting for a while.”

Rumors surrounding Armenteros’ move surfaced last week but culminated on Wednesday, when the two-time Swedish international was spotted at an Amsterdam airport. That afternoon, he arrived in Portland, beginning a two-day process that led to today’s announcement.

“It was a lot of a paperwork, a lot of waiting on my part, between the clubs, that they were finding an agreement,” Armenteros said. “Just patience, patience, and finally, it paid off.”

Armenteros knew he had to leave Benevento long before Europe’s January transfer window. The newly promoted club has endured a historic 15-match losing streak to start its Italian season, one that saw Armenteros, the club’s record signing, deprived of playing time.

“I think I waited 12, 13 games before I even got the chance to play while the strikers in front of me didn’t have a shot on goal for 12, 13 matches straight,” he said, ruing the toll his former club’s struggles had taken on the squad.

“Imagine what that does to a locker room and the people inside of it.”

It’s part of what made a Portland move so attractive. Because of FIFA rules restricting players from playing for three teams in one season (Armenteros had appeared for Benevento and Eredivisie's Heracles since August), the Swedish World Cup hopeful was limited to leagues that don’t play on an August-to-May calendar. When the Timbers expressed interest, he was immediately intrigued.

“This opportunity presented itself, and it directly caught my attention,” he explained. “I did some research. I saw the fans. I saw the city. I asked around to some of the friends I have in the league, and people who have played here. They recommended it, and from everything that I saw, it’s a very professional club. It’s a project where they’re hoping to grow and take steps. And me, I’m just here trying to join that, improve that, help the club grow.”

Armenteros mentioned former Portland midfielder, now Orlando City player Will Johnson and Toronto FC's Michael Bradley, players he has connections with going back to his youth days at Heerenveen in the Netherlands. He mentioned former Timbers defender Pa Modou Kah and Toronto head coach Greg Vanney as other MLS connections.

“Football is moving, and it’s a universal sport,” he said. “It’s a small world, Really.”

Small enough to, less than a year after finishing fourth on the Eredivisie’s goal charts, land Armenteros half-way around the world, where he hopes to rekindle the success that won him his Italian move.

“I know my strengths,” he said. “I know I’m a high-level player. I’m coming here hoping to improve and at least help to fill in whatever spot the coach feels is necessary.

“Obviously, I’ve been in-season already, for a couple of months, so physically, I feel good.”

And in his new teammates, Armenteros is finding a style of positivity – a mood that stands in sharp contrast to where he just was.

“To get out of that,” Armenteros explains, “to see people laugh again on the football field, meet guys who are smiling walking in in the morning, it feels great.”

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