There are a couple players on every successful squad that do the little things to help their teammates. Every team needs water carriers. We just don’t generally expect it to be the center striker.

But when you have a guy with Argentine caps to your left, an MLS MVP behind you, and a World Cup veteran to your right, maybe you’re the one who needs to throw the buckets over your shoulders.

That’s what Portland Timbers forward Jeremy Ebobisse has done lately, and he’s solidified his spot in the starting lineup for it.

In his seven starts this year, the second-year pro has 3 goals and 3 assists. He’s already garnered plenty of admirers:

A few expanded thoughts from our Armchair Analyst:

He just checks so many boxes. Soft feet, great balance (the most important physical attribute for any soccer player), great strength, and totally unselfish in his passing. He’s also a pretty good – not great – finisher, and has shown it against good competition for both the US U-20s and now in the playoffs.

He’s a real soccer player who makes the game easier for the guys around him. It’s not often a center forward is a glue guy, but Ebobisse is.

That last sentence is the most important. Ebobisse hasn’t stood out in the way we traditionally think of forwards blowing our minds. He’s taken 20 months to break into the lineup because he doesn’t dazzle like other starting forwards in MLS. Both guys he’s sat behind, Fanendo Adi and Samuel Armenteros, have more skill on the ball than him.

But Ebobisse has shown that there’s more to offer than touches. While Ebobisse doesn’t have elite skill – yet, hopefully – he’s proven he has good enough technical ability … when paired with his other assets. It’s those other contributions that have made him so impressive.

November 4, 2018

“I’ve always said forwards need to work hard, to make sure they help defensively and also give us a way to find opportunities going forward,” said Portland head coach Giovanni Savarese, after the Timbers’ 3-1 win over Real Salt Lake on October 21. “Jebo worked very, very hard throughout the entire match to be available, to hold the ball, link up, attack the spaces, create chances, and go all the way back to the midfield to make sure RSL didn’t find the midfielders. That was very important.”

Here are four small ways that Ebobisse makes a big difference for Portland.

  1. He takes good positions and angles to stop the opponent’s entry pass into midfield. Portland are a counterattacking team that draw their line of confrontation around midfield. It’s Ebobisse and Valeri’s job to ensure the opposing center backs can’t break the lines to center midfielders. Some strikers tune out - I’m a goalscorer, not a defender! - or don’t have spatial recognition to take the right angles. It helps midfielders and defenders a ton to have a striker who can take up the right positions.
  2. When he pressures the ball, Ebobisse weaponizes excellent closing speed. Sometimes pacey players don’t close the ball quickly or apply pressure well. Ebobisse does both, prohibiting them from having sufficient time on the ball to pick out a pass. Here’s a clip from Sunday: Ebobisse doesn't run – he glides. It simply doesn’t look like he’s working hard or moving fast. As a player on the ball, your brain might not register that he’s moving quickly, leaving you to think you have more time than you do.
  3. He understands his role in the offense. Ebobisse doesn’t steal his teammates’ space. Some strikers want the ball – touching the ball feels good! So they check back and get touches for the sake of getting touches. In turn, they take space or touches that others might get.

    Ebobisse doesn’t go out of his way to find the ball. He stays high between the opposing center backs. He pins them back - because he has the pace to run behind them if they cheat forward - and opens space for Valeri and Sebastian Blanco to exploit. When Ebobisse does get the ball, he keeps it simple. He delivers easy lay off and linking passes back to onrushing teammates:
Warshaw: Jeremy Ebobisse breakthrough proving essential to Timbers success -

All of Ebobisse’s passes, successful and not, against Seattle in Leg 1 of the Conference Semis

  1. He gets around the goal. Most goals occur within 12 yards and one touch. Goalscorers don’t necessarily need to create chances; they need to understand where the ball will be and how to arrive at the right time.

    Three of Ebobisse’s four goals have come from redirections on passes across the box. When his teammates pick up their heads to find a player in the middle, Ebobisse is there. The ability to put yourself into good spots is more important than the ability to finish (though that’s important, too). If you just hang out in front of goal, Diego Valeri, Andy Polo & Co. will get the ball there.

In doing the little things to help his team, Ebobisse has forced his way into the lineup. He’s become a key part of the Timbers’ gameplan. More importantly, he’s given himself a chance to continue to develop. He hasn’t reached his ceiling yet, and the competitive first-team games will help him hone his ability on the ball.

He has the tools and mind to become a USMNT contributor. He needs to spin these minutes into continued growth. There aren’t many better places to prove your worth and grow than the Cascadia rivalry.