The rise of Portland Timbers midfielder Eryk Williamson was one of the best stories of last season in MLS, and the 23-year-old is in the Rose City for the foreseeable future with Thursday's news the Timbers have signed him to a multi-year contract extension.
For Williamson, earning that extension was the first step coming off his breakout campaign that saw him establish himself as a two-way linchpin in Portland's midfield, starting 17 of his 21 appearances and tallying three goals and five assists across 1,417 minutes.
Speaking with reporters on a video call following Thursday's announced extension, Williamson said his sights are now set on his next ambitions, one of which is making a case for call-ups to the US men's national team, something Williamson said he's discussed with Timbers head coach Gio Savarese as they've mapped out the next step in his development.
"I know [Savarese] wants to push me to the next step, whether it's playing the same or similar role with the national team," Williamson said. "I think that's a goal we have is being a regular with the national team. I know there's quite a bit of road there, and I think he wants to push me and make sure I'm a player on the national team.
"But at the same time, for the Timbers, being able to bring trophies back to Portland. I know that we had a good year and we did well at MLS is Back, but at the end of the day we all want championships here and being able to have those performances throughout the year that will ultimately get us the MLS Cup at the end of the year."
Williamson doesn't have a senior USMNT cap yet, but has been on the radar of the US U-23s as they get set for Olympic qualifying, which is currently set to resume in March. Along with Portland teammate Jeremy Ebobisse, Williamson was called into the U-23s January camp in Bradenton, Florida, where they trained with the senior team.
"I think it's just being comfortable in that system," Williamson said of his time with the U-23s. "Being in Portland you have a little more time to be comfortable, get in the rhythm of playing. But I think for me and the staff there, it's getting comfortable so that I can be ready for qualifying, potentially in March. That's a quick turn-around as well, so a lot of it is making sure we're sharp and fit for qualifying.
"That's just the main thing, just putting myself in a position to get selected, or whether I get selected or not, just knowing that I put in the work that I can control. Ultimately if we end up qualifying that's something that we're really pushing for. I think the biggest discussion is going down to Mexico and making sure we qualify for the Olympics and making sure we're in the best position that we have no worries of what's coming after and we just deal with the job down there."
Should Williamson build on his 2020 breakout, talk of a move overseas will inevitably follow, especially if he works his way into the international picture. Europe is something that Williamson said crossed his mind as he thought about his future, but ultimately decided that staying in Portland was the ideal place to continue his development.
"You see all the competition within the national team and guys playing in Europe, so obviously it was a little bit of a thought," he said. "But at the end of the day it comes down to the conversations I was having with [general manager] Gavin [Wilkinson] and with Gio, I feel like I'm in a really good spot here, I feel like I can really grow as a player here, on and off the field. So I think that was the biggest thing. No one knows what the future holds but potentially if we continue our success here in Portland, I'm optimistic of anything happening or coming up in Europe. At the end of the day, it's always an end goal, but I know that I'm more than happy and comfortable here."