In praise of Dairon Asprilla, who "took the team to a different level" against the Sounders
In Portland's fourth straight win over Seattle, it was their clutch performer and emotional center who showed up in the big moment yet again.
Since Giovanni Savarese took the helm of the Portland Timbers in 2018, it could be argued that they are a team defined by one thing: emotion. Portland’s coach is a man who celebrates every goal on the sidelines like his team just won the World Cup, and that intensity permeates through his squad.
And for the past three seasons, no other player on the squad has personified Portland’s emotions on the field more than the man named Dairon Estibens Asprilla Rivas.
On Saturday, in their fourth consecutive win over their biggest rivals, the Portland Timbers enjoyed a vintage clutch performance from the man who has become their emotional center and leader on the field, and the one who has rescued the Timbers time and time again.
The Timbers did indeed need rescuing on Saturday night. After a respectable start to the match, Portland started turning the ball over more and fell onto their back foot. Seattle pressed their advantage, and the field started to tilt against the Timbers. It culminated in Raúl Ruidíaz nabbing yet another goal against the Timbers, in what was a deserved goal for the road team after they started to dominate possession.
Trailing 1-0 at home against their biggest rival in the 58th minute, it felt like the Timbers may be down and out. They hadn’t really come close to scoring at that point. Seattle had steadily sucked the life out of the game, and by extension sucked the life out of the stadium as well. You could start to hear the away supporters’ section over the Timbers Army, and stomachs around the stadium dropped as it looked like Portland was set to suffer another home defeat to their rivals.
If the Timbers were going to get back into the fray, they needed a spark. And who better to provide it than the man who has started to make the spectacular seem regular (and not just in October anymore).
Asprilla’s latest amazing bicycle kick goal (I love that I get to say “latest” now) sparked Providence Park and his teammates into life. As a wise man once tweeted about a separate game two years ago that was also saved by an Asprilla bicycle kick goal (again, love that we have multiple of these now): “This game will forever be ‘BDB, and ADB’: Before Dairon's Bicycle, and After Dairon's Bicycle.”
BDB was tentative and frustrating. ADB was exhilarating, overwhelming, and glorious.
And therein lies the impact of Asprilla on the Timbers. Soccer, perhaps more than any other sport, is defined by moments and emotions: how well those are managed, how big they feel, and how they influence the way the ball moves on the field. Over the past few years, when Portland has needed a moment, has needed their emotions to be brought to life, they have looked to Dairon Asprilla. And on Saturday, just as he has on so many occasions before, he delivered.
The impact was of course not lost on his teammates and coach. “[T]he energy we got after [Dairon] Asprilla’s amazing goal … that was, I think, the moment that took the team to a different level,” Gio Savarese said after the game. One of Asprilla’s fellow goalscorers on the night, Jaroslaw Niezgoda, echoed those sentiments, giving credit to Asprilla’s goal as the thing that changed the match: “When we’re losing 1-0 and we change everything during the 5-10 minutes, yeah ... and suddenly everything changed after his [Asprilla’s] great goal.”
It’s worth it now to briefly pause and reflect upon how wonderful of a vindication Asprilla’s role as the emotional core of this team is. Coming to town as a 24-year-old unproven talent, Asprilla’s early years in Portland were defined by attempts at the sensational — but not much of it coming off. The exception was of course the month of October and the postseason, where Asprilla managed to put it all together and show the first glimpses of the spectacular and clutch role he would come to play down the line.
But still, it was uneven start to life in a Timber shirt for Dairon. A 2016 loan back to Colombia was seen by many as the potential beginning of the end of his Timbers tenure.
Nevertheless, Asprilla stuck around. He returned to the team and started to, frankly, grow up. Taking on a larger and larger role within the squad ran concurrently with Asprilla’s growing maturity and confidence. He still had his penchant for delivering in flashes in big moments (the infamous “Car Show” game against the Sounders in the 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs comes to mind), but we started to see the signs of something resembling more consistency emerging from Asprilla.
It all started to culminate in Asprilla’s breakout season in 2021 — which was defined by, of course, one of those bicycle attempts finally hitting. He scored a career-high 10 goals and chipped in three assists that year, becoming a key figure in Portland’s run to the MLS Cup Final. He followed it up with another 10 goal season in 2022, with three of those goals being game winners. Last season cemented his status as not simply just a playoff hero: he was a Timbers hero for all occasions as well.
His latest occasion was just as big as the ones prior, and could be the catalyst for Portland turning their 2023 season around. Just as his teammates recognize the impact of his goal, Asprilla himself does as well. “It’s more motivation for the Timbers. Today was a big game, with the fans. It’s amazing for us,” he shared postgame.
He also shared that the bicycle kick was not be accident (it never is). Asprilla was practicing the kick during training this week, building his confidence. And so it only makes sense that he called his shot. “I talked to [David] Ayala before the game,” Asprilla shared after the match. He told his Argentinian colleague, “‘You wait for [the] bicycle.’”
Ayala, the Timbers, and all of the Timbers fans in the stadium were waiting for the bicycle Saturday night. Waiting for that moment for the emotions to lift. Waiting for their emotional core to ignite.
When it did, when Asprilla provided the fire yet again, it ignited something special. If Portland turns 2023 into a success, they have a huge rivalry win inspired by their beating heart Dairon Asprilla, to thank.