Asprilla channels grief into big season for Portland Timbers

Portland Timbers midfielder Darion Asprilla reacts during the second half of an MLS football game against the Colorado Rapids on October 23, 2021, in Commerce City, Colorado.

Jack Dempsey / AP

Because Dairon Asprilla’s dad never got to see his son play for the Timbers, the Portland forward brings a memory of him to every game.

Underneath her jersey, Asprilla wears an Arcadio Asprilla T-shirt and a heart. When Asprilla scores, he lifts his jersey, revealing the photo.

It’s his way of keeping his late father – whom he calls his superhero – close.

Arcadio Asprilla suffered from claustrophobia and could not visit Portland from his native Colombia due to the confined spaces on planes. Elder Asprilla even struggled to get around in the car.

“Having the jersey motivates me on the pitch and makes me feel like it’s with me,” said Asprilla. “Because when he was still here, even in Colombia, he was always with me at my games, so it’s just my way of dedicating my career to him, but also just feeling like he’s with me.”

Last year, when her father passed away at 60, Asprilla was devastated. It didn’t help that he was sidelined by injury and that the pandemic has largely isolated him from his family and friends.

But the overwhelming moment also gave Asprilla a new resolve: he would make her father proud. He would put his career, which had failed in recent years, back on track.

“He was my role model and my friend besides just being my dad,” Asprilla said. “I admired him all the time. And it was the biggest part of me to be successful in my career. So he was just still there. “

Asprilla has scored 10 goals this season, more than all of his previous years with the Timbers combined.

He is up for the Major League Soccer Goal of the Year for an acrobatic cycling goal from outside the box that secured Portland’s 2-0 victory over the San Jose earthquakes on October 27. .

There is a log that is at the north end of Providence Park. After each Timbers goal, a slab is cut from the log and presented to the player who scored.

In a twist, after scoring that goal, Asprilla climbed to the top of the log and gestured with both arms outstretched towards the fan section of the Timber Army, which went on a rampage.

“Goal of the Year – that’s it,” Portland coach Giovanni Savarese said afterwards. “I mean, an incredible goal.”

The brash celebration contrasted with Asprilla’s soft-spoken demeanor off the pitch. The 29-year-old is learning English, but during interviews he always prefers to speak Spanish with an interpreter.

Asprilla, now in his seventh season with the Timbers, has had some ups and downs in Portland, shuttling between the senior squad and the lower division Timbers 2 in 2018 and 2019. He then spent the major. part of 2020 injured.

But he still seems to be important to the Timbers late in the season, which has earned him the nickname “Mr. October. In 2019, he scored against the San Jose earthquakes on decision day, helping secure a place for Portland in the playoffs.

In 2018, he was the hero of Portland’s two-legged Western Conference semi-final victory over the Seattle Sounders. Asprilla scored in overtime and then buried the decisive penalty.

Asprilla said he gained confidence by gaining more playing time.

“I always had my head held high and gave it my all, but I think in the last few years I’ve been lacking in opportunities and in the confidence. Now I have this. I have the confidence of our head coach and I have complete confidence with my teammates, ”he said. “So that helped me a lot on the pitch. “

Asprilla has matured and it shows, Savarese said.

“He gave us what we need. He’s been very consistent, not only in the job he’s done to be important and give us a lot of different things, but most of all he’s been prolific in scoring goals, ”said Savarese.

Asprilla will once again be in a rush to make the playoffs Sunday, when the fourth-seeded Timbers host fifth-seeded Minnesota in the first round of the playoffs.

His father will undoubtedly be with him in spirit.

“It was really tough, but it made me stronger in a way I didn’t know,” he said of his struggles last year. my everything – and show who Dairon Asprilla is. “

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