PORTLAND, Ore. – It was the type of goal fans dreamed Jeremy Ebobisse would produce when he was chosen by the Portland Timbers in the 16 months ago, one that was borne of an all-around effort that made the United States U-20 standout the fourth overall draft pick in the 2017 Major League Soccer SuperDraft.
Coming in from behind San Jose’s Fatai Alashe in the 28th minute to win possession, Ebobisse quickly penetrated the Earthquakes penalty box, stopped to send a pursuing defender past, then curled his left-footed shot into Andrew Tarbell’s left-side netting. Goal, Portland; lead, Portland; and eventually, win, Portland, 2-0 in the Fourth Round of the 2018 U.S. Open Cup.
“He couldn’t see me. I was in his blind spot,” Ebobisse remembered, about sneaking up on Alashe. “I saw somebody pressuring him, so I knew he was going to turn, and I was lucky to get that first touch toward goal. It helped me, a lot.
“From there, I saw Marvin (Loría) making a good run in the box. My first thought was to feed him, but I didn’t trust my right [foot]. So, I cut it back onto my left.”
Cut it back and earned his first-ever log slab, one that was instrumental in sending the Timbers into the Round of 16 of the Open Cup.
“I’ll get [the log] cleaned up, put it in my apartment, maybe have the team sign it,” Ebobisse said, confessing he hadn’t decided what to do with his first North End memento. “I don’t know. Someone’s got to have an idea for me.”
Although Dairon Asprilla would double the Timbers’ lead in the second half, it was Ebobisse’s effort that put Portland in control, delivering the team’s seventh win in eight games. It also gave him his chance to celebrate in front of a first-team crowd at Providence Park.
“Scoring at home is special, scoring in front of your own fans,” he said, having experienced his first MLS goal last year, on the road, in Vancouver. “Last year, when I scored, everyone was either booing or silent. I wasn’t really celebrating with anyone but the team. But that’s special in its own right.”
That goal came during a whirlwind rookie campaign, one that saw Ebobisse spend a significant amount of time away from his new team as he competed in the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup. Though he made 21 appearances in 2017 between the Timbers and T2, the then-20-year-old only had seven starts, accumulating just 832 minutes over nine months.
A year later, that’s all changed. Wednesday marked Ebobisse’s eighth start of the year, between Open Cup and USL. He’s scored three times, and with his 732 minutes, he’s quickly approaching last season’s total.
“Last year, as a rookie, I was almost in awe of every situation that I found myself in on the field,” he confessed, admitting that he’s now “a little bit more mature.” “This year, I’ve been able to take a step back, find some sort of composure, and I think it showed on that goal. Last year, I might have rushed it a little bit, or made a rash decision.”
That maturity has also been reinforced by a recent setback, one that kept Ebobisse on the sidelines for more than a month. When his thigh injury originally surfaced, it briefly looked like it could cost him more time, with an original diagnosis proving elusive. Three weeks ago, however, Ebobisse had been able to begin rehabilitation, and on May 26, he returned to the field after a 35-day absence.
“It was tough, but at the same time, there are way more serious injuries,” Ebobisse said, lauding how the support system around him helped preserve his perspective. “People are struggling more than me, but they handle it really well. If they’re out for five, six, seven months and they handle it as well as they do, I know I just have to take it day by day and approach it with the right attitude, (and) I’ll come back flying. As long as I don’t cut any corners while I’m rehabbing, I’ll come back stronger and ready to go.”
Wednesday was that stronger moment, one that provided a coda on two fronts. In the short-term, it proved that Ebobisse can move past last month’s fitness woes and focus on producing more game-defining moments. And in the bigger picture, Ebobisse’s first Open Cup goal shows his new maturity may be ready to vault his career forward.