BEAVERTON, Ore. – When Cristian Ojeda arrived in Portland this March from Argentina, he became the latest in a series of foreign imports to his new team – a practice that has become standard operating procedure for the Portland Timbers’ United Soccer League team, Timbers 2.
Two years ago, it was Bill Tuiloma and Renzo Zambrano who began using the second-level team as a runway to Major League Soccer. Last year, it was Marvin Loría and the now-departed Darixon Vuelto. This year, along with Brayan Hurtado, Ojeda became the latest player to use T2 as a transition into a new culture.
The results have won over USL. Thanks to three goals and three assists over 25 games, Ojeda’s won a spot in the league’s list of its best players 20 years old or younger.
“His willingness to try and strike from long-range – 24 of his 38 shots overall have come from outside the penalty area – could be a trait to try and temper, but there’s a confidence to that number that shows Ojeda’s belief in his abilities.” – USLChampionship.com
Beyond the common statistical indicators, Ojeda’s numbers remain impressive. His 80.2 percent passing percentage compares well to the rate some MLS-signed players have posted at T2, such as Eryk Williamson’s 80.5 percent. The 70.8 percent mark he’s crafted in opponents’ halves matches that of Marco Farfan, even though Ojeda often occupies more central positions. The 25 key passes Ojeda’s generated rank third on the team behind Williamson and Todd Wharton, both of whom have played more minutes.
“He’s adjusted very well to his first season (in the U.S.). He’s been really good in between lines, whenever he gets the ball and is running at people, and he’s a really fast dude. He’s got a really great shot from distance - that’s one of his strongest attributes. And as the season’s gone on, it’s been good to see him continue to grow. I’m happy for him.” – Carlos Anguiano, Timbers 2 teammate
The depth in attack and midfield at T2, along with Ojeda’s late arrival at the beginning of the season, has limited the 20-year-old Argentine to 14 starts, but that time has been enough to garner the rest of the USL’s attention, whether it be in central or wide roles. Often called upon late to change games for head coach Cameron Knowles, Ojeda’s become a reliable contributor in his new home, getting his first foray out of Argentine soccer off to a strong start.
“Cristian has had a positive impact on the team with his work ethic, quality, and ability to acclimate quickly to a new environment. It is very difficult to adjust to a new country, new culture, language etc. but Cristian has applied himself fully … [He] has had some great moments this year, and some important contributions to our team. The more consistently he can display those qualities in games, the higher he raises that ceiling for himself.” – Timbers 2 head coach Cameron Knowles
For most players, it take time to adjust to life in a new world. The Timbers have seen this first hand with players like Zambrano and Loría. Through that lens, and through the lens of his still young age, Ojeda's first year with Timbers 2 has been a successful one. Add his name to the list of players who've had quick impact on their new home.