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Craig Mitchelldyer-Portland Timbers

Farley: Mora's fit was too good for Portland to let go

Felipe Mora's first year with the Portland Timbers was supposed to be his only one. Both sides knew it when he arrived. Mora was looking for a place to play for 2020 before returning to Mexico with Pumas UNAM. The Timbers felt fortunate they could add a Chilean international who they saw as a Designated Player-level talent.

One year later, Mora's ready to make Portland home. As announced yesterday, the Timbers have complete a permanent acquisition of the 27-year-old, purchasing his rights from Pumas and signing him to a new, multi-year deal.

  • THE NEWS | Timbers bring Mora back on permanent deal

"Honestly, I really liked Portland from the first day I was there," Mora said when asked about his fit with the Timbers. "It's a very warm city, a very quiet city. That makes it different from the other cities [I've played in]. Along with my family, we’re happy we can continue [our lives] here."

Warmth and quiet feel like simple things, but for somebody who's had a journey like Mora’s, simplicity is probably more valuable. Since the summer of 2017, Mora's career has taken him from his home in Santiago, Chile, to Mexico City, where he played for two different clubs. Last year, his journey north continued, with Portland becoming his fourth team and third city since his last games with Universidad de Chile. That was only three-and-a-half years ago.

Career stats: Felipe Mora
Year Team GP MP G A
2014-15 Audax Italiano 25 1505 2 n/a
2015-16 Audax Italiano 24 1998 11 n/a
2016-17 Universidad de Chile 26 2023 18 2
2017-18 Cruz Azul 31 2164 12 1
2018-19 Pumas 33 2528 12 1
2019-20 Pumas 14 571 1 1
2020 Portland 19 1203 7 2
Source: FBRef.com; domestic league totals only

In some ways, this is the life a high-level soccer player chooses. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the life he prefers. When Mora moved from his boyhood team, Audax Italiano, to one of Chile’s titans in Universidad de Chile, he reached the heights of the game in his country. At that time, he was only 22 years old. Once he proved himself there, a move abroad was the next step, and like other South Americans, Mexico became his best option.

With every move a player makes from where they’re comfortable, they also accept risks, and by the time he was loaned from Cruz Azul to Pumas, the risks were starting to turn on Mora. Increased competition, new environments, and higher stakes that fuel coaching turnover all help unsettle players. With 27 goals over two-and-a-half years in Mexico, Mora wasn’t exactly struggling, but during this third tournament with Pumas, he was squeezed out of the lineup by a new coach’s approach. Another part of his professional path was starting to take hold.

Maybe that’s part of the reason why Mora’s fit in Portland felt so right from the start. Less than a month after his arrival in the Rose City, he was starting the team’s opening games of the season, and after being hampered by injuries during the summer MLS is Back Tournament, he was quickly back in the team’s rotation. There was no conflict of styles, differences of vision. There wasn’t a rigid, inflexible approach Mora had to fit into. In the Timbers, Mora was joining a team committed to developing different approaches, giving him more ways to fit on the field. And while seven goals and two assists in 1,204 regular-season minutes may seem like a modest total, within a Timbers’ deep attack, Mora was delivering his share of goals.

“When you are happy and comfortable,” Mora explained, “the rest takes care of itself.”

Players’ comfort levels can be difficult to see. They don’t come through over two hours on a field the way they do around life at a training center, or in the hours when players leave the game become regular people. Within most sports team, that comfort level is defined by a level of competitiveness that comes naturally from a young athlete’s world, but with mainstays like Diego Chará and Diego Valeri defining Portland’s culture, and additions like Sebastián Blanco and Larrys Mabiala reinforcing it, the Timbers’ ethos is different than most. There’s more experience, more perspective, and perhaps most importantly after Mora’s travels, calmer.

“I found a very good team - a team hungry to win and achieve important things,” Mora said. “[I also found] people in the club who are very professional and give you many tools to develop in the best way on the field of play. I found a team that has faithful fans, and that makes [Portland] very attractive.”

Every reason the Timbers were attractive to Mora could also read as a reason Mora as attractive to the Timbers. His production on the field is obvious, but his fit in within locker room and the broader team culture meant more risks to let him go. His appreciation of the team’s goals, fans, culture – these aren’t givens with every talent Portland brings onboard. Every level of that relationship is a potential point of conflict. When you have an international-caliber player that meets all those standards, it’s hard to see them go.

“We are thrilled to bring back Felipe long term as he is an accomplished international striker in the prime of his career," said Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese.

“Felipe acclimated seamlessly into the group last year,” head coach Giovanni Savarese said in his team’s announcement, noting Mora’s “international” quality in “the prime of his career.” “[W]e can’t wait for him to continue being a key contributor for the Timbers."

The connections Mora’s made in Portland, particularly among other South American players who are in similar situations? Those bonds would wane if Mora left. And the comfort he has with the team ethos? It feels like a simple thing, but every player responds differently to a team’s approach. And then the idea of competing for minutes with the likes of Jeremy Ebobisse and Jaroslaw Niezgoda? We’ve seen players who didn’t want that fight. Mora sees it as a part of the job. Had the Timbers lost those virtues, the impact would have been felt beyond the depth chart.

Felipe Mora Portland Timbers

Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer-Portland Timbers

Now, both sides can move beyond a one-year view. Mora can focus on establishing a life in Portland, and Portland can stop worrying about surviving a life without him.

“The club, like myself, showed a lot of interest in me staying, so I’m very happy,” Mora said. “I hope to be [in Portland for] many years. I hope to win championships. I hope to make this an even bigger club.”


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