Yes, manager Giovanni Savarese, technical director Ned Grabavoy and the staff had watched the Polish striker for more than a season. But when the time finally arrived to Eastern Europe to watch him play for Legia Warsaw, he was unable to suit up.
Even so, there was a face-to-face conversation. That was enough.
"We had a good talk and I think you get a lot from these conversations to get the real person as well," Savarese recalled. "It’s not only about the player, but it’s more important about the person. And at the end, watching and following everything, we felt he can be a player that can contribute."
That's proven true over the MLS is Back Tournament, which continues for Portland when they face the Philadelphia Union in Wednesday night's semifinal (8 pm ET | FS1/TUDN, FOX Deportes, TSN, TVA Sports 2).
Niezgoda signed a Designated Player contract in January, but due to surgery related to a non-life-threatening heart issue, was not available until the event began in July. The 25-year-old been an increasing part of Portland's attack ever since, scoring his first MLS goal in a 2-2 draw against LAFC in the Group F finale, then adding a goal and an assist in two knockout phase matches. He also converted the decisive spot kick in Portland's triumph on penalties over FC Cincinnati in the round of 16.
In performing equally well as a starter or sub, Niezgoda has validated Savarese's belief he's a player who can fit next to Jeremy Ebobisse or Felipe Mora, in addition to competing with both strikers for minutes.
"Every day he grows in confidence and he has earned the respect of the group as we expected he was going to do," Savarese said. "We’re very content to have him and he definitely brings something different than the other two strikers we have — Jeremy and Mora — and that complements very well the group that we have and he’s done very well in this tournament to start showing here as well what he showed in Poland for many years.”
Niezgoda scored double-digit goals in three of his last four Polish seasons, and averaged more than a goal per 90 minutes in his final campaign with Legia Warsaw. It suggests his improving play in Central Florida is just the start.
"I think the club and the guys have been doing a great job and trying to bring him closer and closer to his top game, and he has shown great stuff," said Portland defender Jorge Villafana. "And I think for sure we’re starting to see little glimpses of what he’s all about and I think we have a great soccer player on our team.”