A report over on SoccerWire.com has a detailed account of the current Portland Timbers' youth system and how it has expanded to become a truly state wide (including Vancouver, WA) system to ensnare Oregon's most prominent youths into one day potentially starring for the team. While the Timbers' U-23 side is well documented in the Premier Development League, the Timbers also control a U-18 and a U16 side. According to the article, a U-14 squad will soon be added.
According to Mike Smith, the Timbers' Academy director:
"The initial idea was to have an Alliance club partner in each of the markets that we had the Regional Training Centers. We could help that club out, make sure that club was developing coaches and players in the right way, and also then would be able to provide location, fields, some staff coach help to help develop our Regional Training Centers. It would be a mutually beneficial arrangement."
So far, it appears to be working. As of now, there are Timbers Alliance clubs in Beaverton, Gresham, Vancouver, Bend and Medford. The team is reportedly also looking at establishing or bringing one in from Eugene and Salem, two notable omissions.
One thing to note, however, is that players playing for one of these alliance clubs don't automatically become Timbers homegrown players. Brent Richards and Steven Evans were the exceptions, not the rule. According to the article a player must compete in 80 training sessions and/or matches each year, followed up with 30 training sessions/matches with the club while in college. This is where the Timbers' U-23 squad comes in as many of the current crop of U-23 members are, in fact, also in college.
Still, it's not all about creating elite players who can one day represent the first team on the field. According to Smith:
"We would like to create elite players through this pyramid, but ... the idea is that if we can help them be soccer fans and come to games and enjoy the experience, then hopefully they'll keep playing. We're just trying to instill passion and enjoyment of the game."
I highly recommend checking out the full article. What you've read here was just a very small portion of it.
What do you think of the Portland Timbers' current academy efforts?