Dairon Asprilla is gone now, heading back to Atlético Nacional, the famous Medellín club he left to join Portland a decade ago. 

Asprilla, 32 years old now, is going home to Colombia for the next, and possibly final chapter of his career. He’ll likely spend his first days savoring what happened on Saturday night, in his last match at Providence Park for the Timbers. 

Asprilla started his final game on the bench, and when he was finally called upon by Phil Neville, with the Timbers seeking to complete a comeback from 2-0 down against Minnesota United, it was as a fullback. 

But it didn’t matter. Asprilla came out firing—bursting down the wing, combining with his teammates, and firing crosses into the box until, finally, one was finished off by Jonathan Rodriguez for the game-winning stoppage time goal

It was a rapturous end to a most remarkable Timbers career, and it left Neville joking in his press conference afterwards that the Timbers were no longer prepared to let him leave. 

“That was a phenomenal performance,” Neville said. “When I look back at Portland performances over the last probably eight years he’s been here, that’s probably the Dairon Asprilla I remember him as.” 

Except, in many ways, that wasn’t really Asprilla. He wasn’t often that dynamic, even at his best. Over the ten years he spent in Portland, Asprilla was rarely even a consistent starter. He only started more than 20 games in one of his ten seasons in Portland; in eight of those ten years, he started fewer than half his team’s games.

Instead, Asprilla was always a player who worked in fits and starts—he’d tumble out of the rotation for four, six, twelve weeks and then explode back onto the scene, often when the Timbers most needed a spark. 

That it took Asprilla until he was 29 years old to have his breakout season in 2021 was telling: despite his tremendous athleticism, this was not a player for whom lasting success at the professional level came all that easily. 

But that was a huge part of what endeared Asprilla to so many people in Portland. When he did unexpectedly emerge as one of the Timbers’ most lethal attacking players during their run to MLS Cup that year, it was a testament not only to his perseverance, but to the foresight and loyalty all the decision makers at Providence Park who kept faith in him even when plenty of clubs would have sent him on his way. 

Between 2021 and 2022 under the direction of former manager Giovani Savarese, Asprilla became a legitimate attacking force: he scored 20 goals in the space of two seasons, including five in seven to end 2022, winning a Supporters’ Player of the Year honor and finally cementing his place as a central figure in the team he dedicated the majority of his career to. 

There was a feeling then that not only was Asprilla propelling rather limited Timbers teams to unexpected heights, but that he’d also done what every professional athlete strives to do: get the absolute most out of their natural talent. 

Asprilla was, without question, a thrilling athlete. He could overwhelm defenders physically, dominating in the air with a leaping ability unmatched in the entire league. He had a cannon of a right foot and plenty of speed as well. 

All of that was clear from just about the first moment he arrived in Portland, in the wet, drab early months of 2015, a fresh-faced 22-year-old kid from the small town of Istmina, Colombia who was moving abroad for the first time. 

But it took Asprilla years to figure out that to last at this level, to maximize his opportunities, he was going to have to cultivate an exceptional appetite for the game—to become the kind of player whose effort and mentality matched or exceeded his considerable natural talent. 

It was his willingness to work week after week, even in the leaner times, that ultimately extended Asprilla’s career in Portland and got him on the platforms he needed to shine.  

And in the end, it was on the biggest platforms that Asprilla made his name in Portland. This is a player who relished the biggest moments—the penalty kicks, the rivalry matches against Seattle, the playoff games on cold winter nights. 

He became such a reliable big-game performer that he earned the nickname Mr. October. That’s why, even when Neville put him on at right back, there was so little doubt that he’d find a way to author one last unforgettable act on his final night as a Timber. 

Asprilla always had a flair for the dramatic. He scored sensational bicycle kicks and celebrated his goals with backflips, thrilling fans who watched him grow up and saw him off at the end of his long journey in the Pacific Northwest with an outpouring of pride and joy that matched the pride and joy he played with. 

Asprilla spent parts of ten seasons in Portland, an eternity in professional sports. He finishes his Timbers’ career as the club’s second-longest tenured player, trailing only his countryman and close friend Diego Chará.  

"It was hard to come here from another country alone, but this became my home,” Asprilla said after the game on Saturday. “It’s been hard to see all the amazing messages and not being able to respond to them all. Mostly, I just want to thank everyone for the love that they've given me.” 

It’s a beautiful thing about soccer, about sports, even about life. Sometimes, the most delightfully unexpected things happen. Dairon Asprilla became not just another Timbers player, but one of the Timbers players—a stalwart who bridged eras and gave just about everything he had for a club and a city so far from where he grew up. 

In the end, Asprilla got the kind of sendoff that most players, even very good players, can only dream of. He was cheered every time he touched the ball on Saturday night, the crowd of 22,000-plus inside Providence Park roaring at their players to give him the ball, urging him to press forward with it. 

After it was all over, after he’d slowly circled the field, he clambered up into the Timbers Army and lingered, signing autographs and posing for pictures, grinning from ear to ear and soaking in the kind of adulation usually reserved for only the best players. 

Asprilla wasn’t that. Except, in so many ways, he was.