Reserve Captain Peter Lowry chases down Maicon Santos in the Portland Timbers' away match against Toronto FC earlier this year.
The MLS Reserve League was created in 2005 to help teams develop young talent and keep lesser used players fresh, but it was canceled after the 2008 season because of a lack of funding. MLS brought it back for the 2011 season, with the squads split into three divisions of six teams each, each side playing the other sides in their division once home and once away.
Punctuated by Monday's 1-0 victory against Vancouver Whitecaps Reserves, the Timbers Reserves earned 20 points from those 10 matches and finished with only two losses, both occurring in May. That record would almost certainly have been good enough to qualify for the playoffs.
But even without the playoffs, the 2011 reserve campaign should be considered a rousing success and has played an important role during the organization's first year in MLS.
Portland Coach John Spencer places much importance on the reserve side, a mentality he has brought from his days coaching the Houston Dynamo reserve team. Because of the league's hiatus, his team's victory in 2008 has made him the reigning champion reserve coach for the past three years.
"I think it's very healthy for the club to have a good, strong, solid foundation, and not just worry about the first team. Regardless of what age you are, regardless of what games you play, when you put on a Timbers uniform, you must go out and try to win this game. And that comes from the club right down to the players."
That message has reached the players. Reserve Captain Peter Lowry praises the attitude of his reserve teammates and says everyone is hungry to get a chance to play for the first team. Playing well for the reserve team is the first step.
"It's an opportunity to try to break your way in, to show your coaching staff and the front office that you deserve opportunities. They don't come easy, especially with a 30-man roster and the kind of talent that the team has."
Equally important is the experience the reserves give to the team's younger players who aren't getting minutes with the first team. Lowry says he has enjoyed the opportunity to work with the young players and takes pride in having served as their captain.
"In Chicago, I had some fantastic guys who kind of took me under their wing - guys like Chris Armas, Brian McBride, Logan Pause, John Thorrington, Chris Rolfe," recalls Lowry. "I try to bring what they taught me here to help the young guys."
"I think there's a responsibility to pass on what you've learned to those who come next. That's a role I've tried to embrace."
Perhaps the most visible success of the reserve team this year was Darlington Nagbe's renaissance as a striker after starting the year as a midfielder. Nagbe started on the first team's bench for three matches in August and September, during which time he lit up the reserve side, scoring two goals and playing magnificently alongside Bright Dike.
"Reserve teams give you a chance to get out there and get your confidence up, and take that confidence to the first team games," Nagbe says.
Timbers fans are familiar with the immediate result of Nagbe's tour with the reserve squad. In time they'll likely become familiar with many more reserve team successes.