As if moving from Poland to Portland wasn't a big enough life-changing event on its own, there were further mitigating factors for Jaroslaw Niezgoda.
Niezgoda was signed by the Timbers as a Designated Player this winter, and with the tag comes big expectations. But he never had a chance to get on the field this winter. He first needed surgery on his heart, his second operation on that organ in two years, before being able to officially sign. While he was focused on recovery from the operating table, the country and the world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was only seven months later when Niezgoda finally made his Timbers debut, at the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando. The Polish striker showed flashes of why he was the leading scorer in the Polish first division before the Timbers decided to make him a DP. Now, as he continues to work his way towards full match fitness and sharpness, Niezgoda feels he's ready for more minutes.
“I feel great, everyday is better. In Florida I probably wasn’t ready for a full game, but now I’m ready," Niezgoda told reporters on a video conference call.
It might be time for the Timbers to benefit from his quality. Head coach Gio Savarese might be in line to make a few changes to the starting XI for their upcoming match against the San Jose Earthquakes (Wednesday, 10:30 pm ET | MLS Live on ESPN+ in US, DAZN in Canada) after the club's disappointing 3-0 loss to rival Seattle Sounders in Week 6. If so, Niezgoda would be a prime candidate to get moved to the starting XI.
Savarese is spoiled for options in both the midfield and attack, both in the volume of quality players and their versatility. Niezgoda, Jeremy Ebobisse and Felipe Mora are all vying for minutes at center forward. Sebastian Blanco, Diego Valeri, Yimmi Chara, Marvin Loria and Andy Polo are options for the "3" line of Savarese's preferred 4-2-3-1.
“There’s good competition, players who can step on the field at anytime," Savarese said. "I trust the players. We’ll see the decisions we’re going to make (for Wednesday).”
Niezgoda scored his first goal with Portland in his lone start at MLS is Back, lasting 58 minutes against LAFC. He also scored in the knockout round against FC Cincinnati (watch above). Scoring is nothing new for the forward. In the first half of the season in Poland with Legia Warsaw, he had more goals (14) than games started (13). In every season since 2014/15, he's scored at least nine goals.
In his limited minutes in a Timbers jersey, Niezgoda linked up well with the likes of Blanco, Valeri and Ebobisse in particular.
“It’s good to work with them," Niezgoda said. "Seba, Diego and Jebo are great players. We understand each other very good and we’ll be better every game.”