Eryk Williamson has been one of the pleasant surprises for the Portland Timbers this summer.
The 23-year-old joined the starting lineup on a full-time basis during the MLS is Back Tournament and simply had the best game of his young career at the most opportune time on Sunday night. He scored his first career MLS goal and picked up the assist on the late winner in the Timbers’ 2-1 win over the Seattle Sounders, showing why he is the best option in the team’s midfield going forward.
Williamson’s goal was a wonderful display of his vision and passing. He started the move with a dribble around a Seattle defender and worked a quick one-two passing play with Diego Valeri that put him through on goal for an easy finish.
“It’s massive, my first goal,” Williamson said after the victory. “Guys have been joking about when is my time to score and it’s a big game against Seattle, scoring my first goal means a lot and I give thanks to all the guys around me and it’s the stuff we do in training that finally paid off in the game.”
“It’s that kind of play where you hope the situation comes about in the game and there’s a couple times where I fell or I take a bad touch to ultimately mess up that play,” Williamson continued, “but I think it’s something that finally came off and it felt good. As soon as it went in the net, I just knew it was my first goal and a big moment for me.”
His performance for the rest of the night displayed his on-the-ball skills and ability to pick out a pass, and it was punctuated in the 83rd minute when he slipped a ball through for Felipe Mora for the game-winning goal.
“That’s what we want,” head coach Giovanni Savarese said. “That he finds sometimes those spaces going forward. He did a great job today to find them. Then an unbelievable pass to assist Mora on the second goal. But a lot of the good play that he showed today offensively and a lot of the discipline defensively that he provided definitely gave us a lot of balance and he had a very good match like every other player today that sacrificed for each other to get the result.”
Williamson arrived in Portland when the club purchased his homegrown rights from D.C. United in 2018 and spend the bulk of his first two seasons with the team’s USL side. There was very little reason to expect him to get much playing time back in March when the MLS season first started. He was entering a midfield with perennial presence Diego Chara along recent contributors Cristhian Paredes and Andy Polo. Williamson was, at best, the fourth choice midfielder in the initial setup in the spring.
He was given an opportunity in Orlando and he didn’t disappoint. He grabbed his first start in the tournament opener against the LA Galaxy and played well enough to earn a second the following match against the Houston Dynamo, where he put on a man of the match level performance that included the assist on the game-winning goal.
WIlliamson went on to start all four games in the knockout round and three of the four games since matches returned to home markets. Sunday night showed everything that head coach Giovanni Savarese wanted to from him and it came at the best possible time. Aside from the goal, he showed the ability to slow the game down in the midfield, contribute defensively, and make his presence felt going forward.
“That’s something that I want to do,” Williamson said, “be able to control the tempo and the pace of the game and I think in Orlando, there were times where we were able to and it’s something that me and Chara have talked about and something we want to work on.”
Williamson has developed a real chemistry with Diego Chara in a way that the Timbers have been missing since Darlington Nagbe left. Chara has been the ever-present force, but the rotating cast of midfield partners never seems to have stuck. If this summer has been any indication, Eryk Williamson could end up filling that void, and his performance against the Sounders is only the most recent evidence that h is capable of being the missing piece to Portland’s midfield puzzle.