Jorge Moreira, Timbers @ LA, 3.31.19
Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer

Life, on and off the field: The decisions that led Jorge Moreira to Portland

PORTLAND, Ore. – In its simplest terms, every signing in the sports world can be explained with two facts: why the team wanted the player; and why the player wanted to join the team.

For the Portland Timbers, their interest in Jorge Moreira was easy to explain. The 17-time Paraguayan international was a regular starter for Buenos Aires’ titans River Plate prior to a knee injury in October 2017. He worked his way back into the first team last year, eventually featuring for Los Millionairios in last winter’s Club World Cup. But the emergence of 22-year-old Gonzalo Montiel in Moreira’s absence meant River had depth at the position. For the Timbers, an opportunity to strike a loan deal for a player at that level fit perfectly with a team looking for fullback depth.

“He’s been in big games …,” Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese said in February, when Moreira’s year-long loan was confirmed. “The experience that he has is going to help us create more competition at that position.”

With his first Major League Soccer start on Sunday at the LA Galaxy, Moreira’s added competition is starting to play out, giving Savarese and his staff three starting options among their wide defender positions. But beyond the player Moreira adds to a depth chart already featuring Zarek Valentin and Jorge Villafaña is a quality that helped him stand out for the South American champions – a quality that, even with Montiel’s emergence, made it difficult for River to let the Paraguayan go. As Timbers fans saw in the 18th minute against the Galaxy, when Moreira’s lung-breaking sprint helped him get back from his attacking responsibilities to disrupt a far-post cross, the 29-year-old’s capacity for work may be his standout quality, with his constant effort defining a reputation he’s carried north.

“When you have an ability that takes you places, you always want it to be on display,” Moreira said, when asked about this reputation. “You want to give everything to return the trust you have been given – the trust of the fans, the trust of the club, the trust of the team president, head coach, and players. That work, it’s what brought me [to Portland].”

MLS fans saw a small glimpse of that quality on Sunday, and in over a month’s training sessions with Portland, the effort has stood out even more. The quantity, duration, and intensity of Moreira’s sprinting is a constant feature in practice, and while he may not necessarily be the fastest player on the team, his ability to reach his top speed quickly – and the frequency with which he does so – has validated his reputation.

“I’m always going to give 100 percent with each match, practice – each touch (of the ball),” he says, less boasting then merely explaining why, having moved half-way across the world, this reputation immediately followed him.

“That’s my personality. There’s always going to be more work to do, and you always have the option of leaving 100 percent on the field. In that way, I’ll always have a chance to show people why I was brought here. And that will always be the type of person I am.”

* * * * *

Flattened and detached from his voice’s tone and rhythm, Moreira’s words portray a man as intense in speech as he is in stride. That conception, however, is a misleading one. Well into the prime of his career, Moreira doesn’t carry himself as somebody with anything to prove. He’s matter of fact, and congenial. He is a family man, having brought three children with him to Oregon, as well as somebody who is his own finished product. No questions hover over a player with his resume. There are only explanations.

Temperamentally, he’s a perfect fit for a team culture that has been defined by Diego Chara and Diego Valeri, augmented by players like Sebastián Blanco, Larrys Mabiala and Jeff Attinella. Sports are a young man’s game, but there is a point at which those young men start to develop adult lives, and as the Timbers have established their core – and that core has grown together – the balance between dedication to the team and time for family has become more important. Having a well-rounded life is part of Portland’s culture.

Savarese has cited this frequently over the last two months, emphasizing how much being away from homes and families could weigh on his squad during this prolonged, 12-game road run. For Moreira, that time away comes with a slightly ironic bend, as establishing a more consistent family life was a main motivation behind his move.

“In South America, it feels like you’re playing every Wednesday, then every Sunday,” he explained, when describing the lifestyle in Buenos Aires. The travel isn’t as long, mileage-wise, as trips in the United States, but the frequency meant, “you’re losing important moments with your family.

“Today, I feel like I’m living a much calmer life. They way that [teams] do things, here, I have more time to spend with my family. Having a part in their school lives, not missing birthdays, the moments you want to share with your children day-in, day-out. Those were things that I wasn’t always able to do before. They’re times I didn’t always get to share with my family.”

The life of a professional athlete in the U.S. has its sacrifices, too. The Timbers’ current road spell is testament to that. But as was the case when established Timbers like Valeri and Blanco relocated from Argentina to Oregon, a vision for Moreira’s family played a major part.

“The truth is the culture is completely different when you’re playing in South America,” Moreira says. “Football is lived to the 100 percent level, everyday, there. Anytime you go out, you have press and photographers that you might run into.

“Here, Americans are passionate about soccer, but if you play for River or Boca (Juniors), out on the street, everybody knows you. The people are fanatical. Sometimes, it’s madness.”

Going to restaurants comes at the expense of your privacy. Time in public with your children? It’s never your own. No playdates at the park. No birthday parties in public spaces. Life beyond your home is not your own.

“In South America, with your family, you could still live a private life,” he explained, “but you might not be able to truly enjoy it.” You’d be in isolation while doing so.

“That’s why we decided to come here,” Moreira continues. “It’s a calmer life. For the family. For the children. For the time we spend together. We can go out to eat. We can go to parks. We can have normal life when we’re going to school …

“Here, you love soccer in a different way. You have the NBA. You have American football, but you still have soccer, too. MLS has revolutionized that, and the league is known worldwide, with so many great players coming here and making the league more competitive.

“Those are the only reasons why we decided to come here: We could have the soccer, and we could have a calmer life. Nothing more.”

* * * * *

Moreira got his first taste of that soccer on Sunday, going the full 90 minutes against the Galaxy. It wasn’t an overwhelming performance, but it was an encouraging one. In his positioning high on the right flank and the ground he was able to cover, the Paraguayan showed the something different Portland was hoping he’d provide.

“He’s a player that’s not going to be afraid to go forward,” Savarese said, over a month ago. “And from what I’ve seen of him, he makes very good decisions.”

Moreira strikes a similar tone when talking about his first months in MLS: optimistic, if reserved. There’s still more to see, both sides imply, even if there’s a familiar depth to the player’s thoughts. Detailed and forthcoming with his answers, just as he was when discussing his move, Moreira is a player uncommonly at ease with his thoughts – as if he’d already thought about the question you asked, and had been waiting for his chance to respond.

“The truth is, this league is very competitive,” he says. “There is no team whose difference in quality means they can’t play well.”

Moreira’s seen the full array of those differences over his first month. An expansion team in Cincinnati. A rebuilding squad in Colorado. A veteran team trying to reload in one part of Los Angeles, and a title contender in the other.

“It’s a brand new experience for me,” Moreira says, before quickly moving to factors beyond the squads. “For example, the first game in saw in Colorado, it was very impressive. I had gone from temperatures of 30 degrees (Celsius) to minus-five, there. It was madness, right?

“Then you go to Los Angeles, where it was perfect weather and the fans were amazing. Then you go to Cincinnati, where the fans were just as good, but it was artificial turf.

“They’re the little things that I have to get accustomed to, but that’s good. It’s why every team here is different, in addition to having players of such high quality. That’s how it is across the entire league.”

No surprise, Moreira has thought about the implications of playing in that type of league. The realities have become part of his goals.

“With MLS, I’ve come with a clear vision,” he explains. “The energy, the strength of this league? I want to win things. I want to win important things. I want us to stay in the playoffs, reach an MLS final, and win it.

“That’s my greatest desire: to reach those heights with Portland. I want to be an MLS champion. Right now, that’s my great objective.”

* * * * *

When it comes to his half of his Timbers’ move – the whys that brought Moreira to Portland – there is no single explanation for why the Paraguayan has traded Buenos Aires for Cascadia. From a more multifaceted view, though, we get a better picture of what a high-level soccer player’s life entails. Realities on the field are always important, but desires off the field weigh heavy, too. Sometimes, they’re the most important part of understanding why, from 6,800 miles away, a player might settle on Portland.

Moreira is here to play soccer, no doubt, but he’s also here for life in the United States, for reasons that transcend the field. His life in the game has created this opportunity. Now, he’s taking advantage of it.

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