The Portland Timbers have gone undefeated in the MLS is Back Tournament, partially in thanks to their offensive attack that was lacking to begin the season.
"In the beginning of the season it wasn't easy for us," recalls midfielder Diego Valeri. "But then we had a lot of meetings and we clarified a lot of stuff and obviously it's all about the quality and level of the players and the way we connect [with] each other.
"When your attacking players are [playing at] a good level then they create chances... We have to keep the level until the final."
But the question remains of who exactly will be leading that offensive attack.
So far, striker Jeremy Ebobisse has started in three of the four games played in the tournament, and scored in all three group stage games.
However, designated player and 2020 offseason acquisition Jaroslaw Niezgoda started the final game of the group stage and was subbed onto the field in the 63rd minute in the Round of 16. In the 67th minute, he scored after being on the pitch for just four minutes.
Then, with the match against FC Cincinnati heading for penalty kicks, Savarese subbed off Ebobisse in the 90th minute. Niezgoda would kick the game-winning penalty in the shootout to advance Portland to the quarterfinals.
What are the thoughts of head coach Giovanni Savarese about his strikers? He thinks it is a good problem to have.
“We knew that [Niezgoda is] a player that can finish, that has experience," explained Savarese. "He has different qualities than Jebo and one thing we are very happy that he's getting stronger, getting fit because he hasn’t played for a long time [for the Timbers], he hasn’t practiced until not long ago. We’re getting to know him more and more. His performance so far has been improving and getting better and we saw his quality on goal.
"Jebo has been doing very well this year with an even higher level of performance. We see the development of Jebo being fantastic and we have another very good option that is [Felipe] Mora... As the coach, you want to be in this situation of having difficult decisions to make. They’re all performing, they’re all doing well and that’s what we need.”
Mora entered the game on Tuesday replacing Ebobisse and kicked the team's third penalty kick.
However, all players have the same goal: to win the MLS is Back Tournament and earn a spot in the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League.
In my view it's probably the most important thing. I really want to play a CONCACAF so... I think it's a great motivation and for the group I think it's the same. It gives us the opportunity to put the team in an international cup and then that's a different level of prestige. -- Diego Valeri
Portland will play NYCFC at 7:30 p.m. PT on Saturday, August 1 in the quarterfinals of the MLS is Back Tournament.