Timbers 2 to Become a Vital Part of Player Development

Portland’s USL PRO side to play at Merlo Field, where many have become stars
by Ray Marcham   |   Friday, October 17, 2014

Green Logs - a column on the Portland Timbers & the Portland soccer scene

As the 2014 MLS regular season reaches its most critical point for the Portland Timbers, the first seeds of 2015 were planted on Tuesday.

It also sets the stage for keeping players in Portland and developing consistent depth, an aspect that the club wasn’t able to do in the past.

That the Timbers are going to have a team in USL Pro next season isn’t a surprise. There had been rumblings for most of the year that the club was going to have its own side in the third-division league. The main question was where the team would be based, and it turned out the team would stay in Portland.

This also means that the club’s affiliation agreement with Sacramento Republic, the 2014 USL Pro champions, will end after one season. With MLS requiring its clubs to affiliate with a USL Pro team or develop their own, Portland decided to keep its USL Pro team in-house.

But Portland Timbers 2, as the team will be known (much like LA Galaxy II this year and Seattle Sounders 2 next year), won’t play at Providence Park. Instead, they will play at the other epicenter of Portland’s soccer history, the University of Portland’s Merlo Field.

One could call Merlo Field “The House that Clive Built”. It was built because of the incredible success that the Portland Pilots have had over the years, starting with Timbers legend Clive Charles. It was built in 1990 to accommodate the large crowds that were making their way to north Portland to see Charles’ teams play. In a sense, during the dark years in the 1990s when the Timbers were but a pleasant memory, Merlo Field was the home of Portland’s soccer culture.

The Timbers aren’t strangers to Merlo, either. They hosted two friendlies there, playing the San Jose Earthquakes in 2008 and Manchester City in 2010. As the renovation of Providence Park was beginning in the fall of 2010, the Timbers played a USSF 2nd Division playoff match there against Vancouver. They also played their first US Open Cup match of 2011 at Merlo, defeating Chivas USA.

Timbers 2 is being set up to develop Portland’s future stars, and that makes Merlo Field a perfect place for the team. Kasey Keller, Conor Casey, Christine Sinclair, Tiffany Milbrett, Steve Cherundolo, Megan Rapinoe, Nate Jaqua and Shannon MacMillan all played their college soccer on “The Bluff”, as UP is called (due to its location on a bluff overlooking the Willamette River). Charles’ legacy is still very strong, as reflected in the two men who replaced him after his death in 2003, Bill Irwin (men’s coach) and Garrett Smith (women’s coach), both long-time assistants for Charles (who was the head coach of both UP soccer teams).

That developmental model also will give players who aren’t able to get a regular spot in the rotating match day 18 a chance to play and get valuable minutes against good competition. There have been cases where players that the Timbers wanted couldn’t play in Portland because there was no room to develop and the MLS reserve league was unreliable, at best.

A prime example of a player who developed greatly elsewhere despite being picked by the Timbers is Miguel Ibarra. He was chosen by Portland in the second round of the 2012 Supplemental Draft, but despite a solid training camp, Gavin Wilkinson and John Spencer decided not to keep him. Ibarra then went to Minnesota Stars FC (now Minnesota United) of the second-tier North American Soccer League and has developed into a star in the Twin Cities. He’s also impressed Jürgen Klinsmann enough that he was called up to the US Men’s National Team for last week’s two friendlies, and he played against Honduras.

Another who developed greatly outside of Portland is Jake Gleeson. The difference with Gleeson, of course, is that he’s still under contract with the Timbers despite not playing in an MLS match since 2011. After two years of injuries and playing in reserve matches, Gleeson got his chance to be an every-match goalkeeper when Portland sent him on loan to Sacramento for the 2014 season.

It turned out to be a fantastic move for Gleeson. He played in 17 matches and led Sacramento to the USL Pro title in their first season of existence. He impressed so much in Sacramento that Caleb Porter called him up to Portland to play in the CONCACAF Champions League match against Alpha United on September 23. He got the shutout and established himself as a real contender to be at least the #2 goalkeeper next season in Portland.

One more example is the week-long loan spell Rodney Wallace had with Arizona United in June after his knee injury. He played two matches, showed the Timbers he was fit and ready, and soon after he was back with the first-team.

Ibarra and Gleeson are two examples of the type of development that Wilkinson and Porter want to be able to do with Timbers 2. It also will allow Portland to have their injured players, like Wallace, work back to fitness in game situations and show they are ready for MLS play.

Timbers 2 is just another layer in the club’s developmental process. Along with the academy and the U-23 side, Portland can now develop their own players, playing their system, and have them ready for MLS once the time comes.

Those players, in the long run, could be the future of the Timbers. We’ll know in a few years how that future has developed.

NEXT UP: October 17 – Portland Timbers vs. Real Salt Lake, Providence Park, Portland, Oregon. 10 p.m. EST, NBC Sports Network.

Ray MARCHAM

Nationality:
USA
College:
Washington State
Club Domestic:
Portland Timbers
Club Foreign:
Arsenal
Cascadia native and a fan for as long as he can remember, Ray was brought up on the old NASL. Learned to love MLS. Wanted to play like Clive Charles. Then like Tony Adams. Only dreams, of course.
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