Jeremy Ebobisse isn't your typical 21-year-old.
When he speaks, he sounds like a polished veteran. His voice doesn't get too excited, even when talking about his recent breakthrough into the Portland Timbers starting XI and looming larger on the radar of the US national team, but it doesn't get too down, even when discussing the lowest points of his burgeoning professional career. That steady mentality was a byproduct of said low point, as Ebobisse promised himself never to get too high when the good times roll nor too low when nothing seems to be going his way.
It appears to be working quite well for him.
Even when talking about his personal chances for a call-up to the senior USMNT, Ebobisse doesn't give off the impression of having a biased opinion. He is introspective and rational.
"The near future is a little bit harder to answer, obviously U.S. Soccer is going through a lot right now and I'm also not the most experienced player," Ebobisse told MLSsoccer.com. "I think I have the potential to be there. The timeline? I don't know. It could be a year, could be four years for all I know. I have to take it step-by-step, that's the most important thing."
Ebobisse doesn't want to fall into the same trappings that can derail young players, so he doesn't get caught up in what he does or does not deserve.
"So many young players have these grandiose ideas of where they should be, where they will be," Ebobisse said. "Having an inflated sense of self can sidetrack a young player. I've definitely gone through the ebbs and flows of that mentally, I've definitely hit some downs where I realize I have to take it slowly. If it's meant to be, it'll be. As long as I'm doing the right things, there's no reason why I can't end up there at some point in my career."
That mentality isn't something that most players his age come by, especially someone with a decorated youth career that included scoring 10 goals for the US U-20 national team and starring at Duke University for two seasons.
"I had a wake-up call," Ebobisse explained. "Last year, after the U-20s in qualifying, I went on my first real goalscoring drought, at least the one that mattered most. Having worked my way as a college player to become a focal point of that team, scoring a lot of goals leading into the tournament, I tried to avoid all of these hype trains, but started to read into it. Like 'yeah, maybe I should be here' or 'maybe I am the best forward.' Then after I missed a couple chances, I just started to question everything. 'How'd you miss so many easy chances?'"
It didn't immediately get better. After being selected No. 4 overall in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft by the Timbers, Ebobisse played just eight MLS minutes before July of his rookie season. He began to regularly get opportunities off the bench, but still only started two games in 2017.
"It was a rude awakening for me ... I came back to Portland and didn't play much at all, I didn't see the field until May of my rookie campaign," Ebobisse said. "All of that made me take a step back and realize, okay, I can be frustrated with the fact that I feel I deserve to play, but what does that mean? What am I going to do about it? Am I going to sulk, talk about how I should be in whatever position? Or am I just going to work harder?"
Ebobisse chose the second option.
"Through all the frustration and disappointments in myself, I worked harder," Ebobisse said. "I worked with my coaches, my teammates, took in as much advice as I could from (Fanendo) Adi and (Diego) Valeri, which has been huge for me. That step back I took has allowed me to stay more even-keeled mentally through the ups but also, most importantly, the downs."
For now, Ebobisse is enjoying the moment, which most certainly falls in the "ups" category. He became the team's starting striker in September and has helped lead the Timbers to the Western Conference Championship, with Leg 1 against Sporting Kansas City Sunday (7:30 pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes, TVAS, TSN) at Providence Park. As for next year, he has international ambitions.
"In the back of my mind, obviously I want to break into the men's national team at some point," Ebobisse admitted. "How soon can I do it? That's to be determined. Again, it's a process, whether I like it or not, I have to accept. If I continue to find ways to be impactful in big games, there's no reason why I can't reach whatever goals I set."