BEAVERTON, Ore. – Jeremy Ebobisse’s accomplishment became a subplot in the midst of last Wednesday’s controversies, with disputes about foul-drawing, swallowed whistles and extra-time management snaring headlines in the wake of the Portland Timbers’ 2-2 draw against the New England Revolution, but for the 22-year-old attacker, passing an important benchmark for a young striker is worth another, albeit belated, moment of pause.
With his diving header early in the second half of that visit from the Revs, the 2017 first-round draft pick reached the 10-goal mark of the season, with a second lunging finish later in the half further pushing U.S. international past the double-digit threshold.
“I saw [Sebastián Blanco] crossing, and I knew it was going to go over my head,” Ebobisse said, when asked to describe his night’s second goal. “So, I decided, let me flick my – no, I’m kidding.”
You could see in his celebrations that night, Ebobisse knew his fortune. That fortune, though, in Ebobisse’s view, is part of being a striker. Just as, at times, the right technique and execution can still leave a player deprived of a goal, so could a misjudged cross and some improvisation produce the desired result.
“What I tell everyone is that it’s definitely luck, but you have to put yourself in those positions to get lucky,” he explained. “At the end of the day, you put your body in spots where, whether it’s off your shoulder, off your chest, off your knee, the outside of your foot, you just want it to get a bounce and into goal.”
Those shots, redirections, deflections and bounces have gone Ebobisse’s way 11 times in MLS play this year, ramping up a career total that sat at three coming into the season. Amid movement from striker to both wing positions during the year, “Jebo” is producing a goal every 202.6 minutes, a rate that puts him fifth among players born after 1994 who’ve played at least 1,500 minutes this season.
“Simply put, it’s really important,” Ebobisse said of the double-digit mark, a sentiment echoed by his head coach.
“Numbers help you to keep a record of how well a player is doing,” Giovanni Savarese said, after also describing the mark as “important.” “I don’t rely only on numbers, because I think there are other values that are missed only in numbers, but I believe, specifically in Jebo’s situation, in his performance this year, it’s been outstanding.”
Savarese has unique perspective from which to judge strikers. In just over four years in Major League Soccer, from 1996 until 2000, Savarese scored 51 goals, posting four double-digit-goal seasons while scoring every 160.2 minutes.
In his frequent last-practice finishing drills, Savarese imparts lessons from that experience, part of the lens through which he can judge Ebobisse’s progress.
“[Ebobisse is] a player that has shown great development,” Savarese said. “He’s a player that is learning every day how to be better, how to be a player that can help. the team. He hasn’t done it only as a striker – [he] has played on the left side, the right side … I still think there is room for improvement in him, and he understands that.”
Ebobisse also understands that, at 22, his first full season as a starter is part of a process. Coming into 2019, he had accumulated 766 regular-season minutes, making seven career starts. In 2019, he’s started 24 times, played 2,229 minutes, and is the only Timbers player to appear in every game during the MLS season.
“Naturally, throughout the course of the year, everyone goes through ups and downs,” he said, when asked to evaluate his season. “Mine’s been no different than that. The ups have been great. The downs have been a piece to work on, something that has mentally been challenging, as well. But overall, net positive.”
Net positive may be an understatement. Because Ebobisse arrived with a relatively high profile for a SuperDraft selection in the winter of 2017, it can feel as if he’s been in Portland longer than he has, particularly because the perspective he shows on mic and in front of camera hints at a person beyond his years. But Ebobisse is only 22 years old. He is only in his first full season as a starter and, having broken through as a regular at the end of the 2018 season, is just now in a position to fully leverage his prior experiences.
If the Timbers get a positive result on Sunday against the San Jose Earthquakes in MLS' Decision Day, presented yb AT&T (1pm PT, TICKETS, ESPN), Ebobisse will reach his second postseason. Once there, he’ll likely be a regular starter. While neither of those outcomes are set in stone, both would give him a chance to build on a momentum that started last season.
“[There’s] a lot to learn and push on from,” he said, “but it’s not the end of the season. We’re going to win this Sunday and hopefully make a long run.”