With the first game of the season coming up this Friday, the Portland Timbers U23's practiced Tuesday morning in Tualatin Hills. With most of the players on the team still in school for the semester, today's practice was a mix of players who have already signed with the team and non-roster players either hoping to earn a spot or just there to help out.
With about 15 of the 25 players present on the team's roster, there were still a number of players who had not arrived in town yet. According to head coach Jim Rilatt the team should have 17 of the currently signed players present for the season open at Jeld-Wen Field on Friday, although three of those will be goalkeepers.
Of the players present, several were familiar faces. The team's Oregon State and University of Portland contingents were well represented with U23's veterans Roberto Farfan and Steven Evans leading the way. Although the team returns seven players who have suited up for the U23's previously. Although not signed, Tracy Hassan was also taking part in practice. The diminutive Hassan still sports the big energy and big hair that made him one of the more well known U23's players of the last two years.
More notes on the U23's plus hear from coach Jim Rilatt after the jump.
Although the team still has a core of players that are familiar with each other, the Timbers scouting network has brought in several exciting candidates from around the nation as well. Upon first looking at the team training it is hard not to miss new addition Anthony Hobbs. Hobbs is a New Zealand International who played alongside Jake Gleeson in the U17 World Cup. An imposing presence on the field, Hobbs slots in at center back.
One of the most intriguing new players picked up by the Timbers U23's this year is striker Mark Sherrod. Sherrod was a Herman Trophy semi-finalist last year alongside Generation adidas players Andrew Wenger, Luis Silva, Casey Townsend, and Darren Mattocks after scoring 19 goals in 18 for Memphis.
On the team's returning players
I'm pretty excited. You know, Roberto and Stevie enter their fifth year with me. Richard Carrillo enters his third year with me. It's nice to have Chris Harms back, he was here the first year and got injured right in the second year. It is fun to have what probably becomes our last go around, because I've coached them from the time they were little in different environments, so it is really nice to see it and I look forward to it and, hopefully, they perform. Otherwise they might be disappointed.
On what players Timbers fans should look out for this year
I think that Spencer Richie from the University of Washington in goal, credentials wise, speaks for himself. His performance against us last year, playing for Tacoma, he let in ten or twelve goals but it honestly could have been thirty had he not been in there and I'm glad he's on our side. I think that solves our problem that we had last year, giving up goals.
I'm really excited to see Eric Miller from Creighton. We'll see bits and pieces of him as he is off with the U20 team and will be going to South Africa, but he is excited to be here and we're excited to have him. Mark Sherrod from Memphis, he's in now. He looks very interesting, really decent around goal. That could help us in scoring goals.
I think overall the depth of the team will make it very difficult for people to latch on to any one person because it is a pretty deep group and from what we saw today there is a lot of talent there. I have high expectations for Stevie Evans. I think he's somebody that has some special and unique qualities. If he wants to go on he needs to start playing now. He has to step up and I think he will. I'm pretty excited about him.
On the challenges posed by the season starting while some players are still in school
It's difficult to be very well organized. What we try to do is mimic as much of the first team as we can in the pace that's required to play there, the pressure that you try to bring on to the opponent, and then rely on their ability, which they have ability, rely on their knowledge, which they do have knowledge, and allow them to try and organize one another until we have everybody here. The hard thing about the schedule is that we could potentially be in our third open cup game by the time our entire roster is here if we do well in one and two.
On making the US Open Cup
For me it's great. It adds games to the schedule, which I think the players need while they're here but I am really excited for the players. The last two years we had a good group of players that, had they been given the opportunity, would have had more attention drawn to them. I think the Open Cup, if we get our job done and we get some success, it allows us to give these players the chance to perform in front of eyes around the country that maybe haven't seen them.
On how playing with the U23's prepares a player for a soccer career
We mimic the first team because what [John Spencer] has brought to my coaching and influenced me I think is exciting. It's high paced and I like that. It's a step forward for soccer, especially having grown up in this area where everything is slow, slow, slow, slow, slow.
I think the organization has made an investment and they want to know if any of these players could grow into wearing the jersey for the first team and obviously we've been pretty successful for the last two years with what we did.
This year I think we have a group of players that there are some high expectations on whether they can perform and it is always nice to have them for a couple of months and know about them. We found out last year that there are some people who have got a lot of talent that maybe we wouldn't want to take the risk with.
You get to know that over two or three months and you know that people have to go through difficult times. PDL is difficult. It is a grind, so you find out some of the things, the habits, and personalities of people. I think that's the goal. [Jake Gleeson], [Freddie Braun], [Ryan Kawulok], [Brent Richards] proved that they are quality human beings as well as good soccer players. That's what we know from having them under the microscope.
On the influence of the U23's that have made the first team
I don't know if they take inspiration from it as much as they realize that this organization, [Merritt Paulson], [Gavin Wilkinson], and [John Spencer] appreciate the efforts of the PDL guys and have rewarded those that have given exceptional effort. That just sets the standard for any one of these guys, because now somebody needs to step in and take Ryan Kawulok's spot this year and somebody needs to step in and take Brent Richards spot this year. We didn't find anybody to step in and take Jake Gleeson's spot from the year before.
I think what has occurred is by the organization's promotion of players we're seeing kids from Creighton or kids from Memphis, there's a kid coming in from Georgetown, wanting to come to Portland because there is a definite rout into the first team if they perform. I kid you not, if they don't perform... Stevie Evans may be four years here, or Roberto Farfan, but nobody is going to take the risk just to be nice. They have to perform. They have a wonderful stage to do it in. John Spencer will see these guys play at some point. What a better place to try out. I think that's what has occurred in the promotion of players in this program, and to four good kids too. Four good men. Hopefully we have four more in this year's group. That would be awesome.