Last night's game was a lot of fun. No pressure to win, no expectations for three points. Really it was all about having fun and watching our home team challenge a team from one of the best leagues in the world. More than that, though, it was a bit of a revelation watching the Portland Timbers young guns strut their stuff in front of an increasingly lethargic starting XI side.
I'm under no illusion that last night's game was truly indicative of a regular season match. Truth is there were a lot of variables that allowed the Timbers to play as well as they did last night, one of them being the sheer amount of substitutions allowed. Still, despite the nature of the game, it would be difficult to look at what happened between the first and the second half and not come to the conclusion that perhaps some of these younger players deserve more playing time during the regular season. After all, it's becoming increasingly more likely that the Timbers won't be joining the play offs this year.
But don't just take my word for it. Let's take a look at a few key players and see if they deserve a real shot...
While he's been getting a bit more time since John Spencer left, I would still argue that he's not being utilized to his fullest extent. Still, what he showed last night was a revelation in the midfield compared to what we're used to. In fact, he was my personal Man of the Match. Don't believe me? Just ask @TheMikeDonovan as he followed the player throughout the game.
Richards brought the kind of work ethic that has been sorely missing from the games in recent memory. He let few things slide without a challenge and was constantly on the attack. When he was playing a forward he paired up nicely with Boyd to create some chances and when he moved back into the midfield he consstently tracked back to help defend when needed, something Kalif Alhassan and Franck Songo'o should study a bit more.
Kalif Alhassan gets benched for Brent Richards.
Rincon, the forgotten striker for the Portland Timbers. It would be easy to forget that this signing ever happened, despite all the build up to his actual signing because the Timbers simply don't use him in the regular season. But perhaps it's time they did. While I'm not convinced he yet has the technical skill as either Danny Mwanga or Darlington Nagbe, he makes up for it in pure heart. The fact that he positioned himself well and didn't lose his head when it came time to equalize in the 76th minute shows that he's hungry for some real playing time.
Pair him up top with Kris Boyd for a game and see what happens.
Kosuke Kimura might have been brought here from the Colorado Rapids to shore up the right back spot, but he's not done a great job at it. I don't know the player well enough to comment on his abilities, but perhaps giving him some true competition for the spot would light a fire and get him working. Who better than to light that fire than youngster Ryan Kawulok...
Ryan was not without his own mistakes last night. But he's young and those are to be expected. What made him have a great night, however, was his consistency. Yes, mistakes happen, but he never let it get into his head and he was always back up and giving it his all a minute later. The technical skill will come with time, but he's got a great head on his shoulders today.
Oh and the assist certainly helps!
Bench Kosuke Kimura for a few games and give the spot to Kawulok.
There you have it. Three young players who I feel should get more playing time in the regular season. It's not enough to seriously affect the make up and overall experience of the team, but it will do two things which I feel are a must for this current Timbers squad:
1. Show every presumed starter that their job is not safe. Everybody works for a spot and those who don't work hard enough get benched.
2. Get our future generation meaningful minutes. With the season getting out of control, it's time to focus on the next season and one of these kids could possibly be the player who will take us to a trophy next year. Give them a chance.
Who were you impressed with? Would you give any of them minutes in a regular season game? Who? Why?