With the academy system up and running for the Timbers, now looked at to become a feeder for the summer season of the Timbers U-23s, I’ve noticed (and many others have noticed) the severe lack of possible Homegrown Players on the U-23 roster.
It can certainly be seen that the Timbers U-23s are in that awkward period between the infant stages of the academy and the college years. To a certain extent the U-23s are currently in the teenage years between youth soccer and college soccer (this likely makes more sense in my head than as I type it out).
I’m certainly no expert on the Homegrown Player rule, but its one I look at a lot more than other ways for athletes to join MLS. I was not surprised by Brent Richards getting loopholed into a contract, nor was I shocked that Steven Evans joined the big club via the "Richards Rule" as well – I kind of assumed when Richards was announced that Evans was a year away. Through my understanding of the rules I also am not surprised that Erik Hurtado was not eligible for the "Richards Rule", however my belief as to why this was the case would also have ruled Evans ineligible.
I know the Timbers Army website had a piece on the academy and U-23 system, which led to some back and forth with Merritt Paulson on Twitter. Without going into specifics, I agree wholeheartedly with many points both sides brought up.
To put my thoughts forward in the simplest terms – the U-23s SHOULD be made up mainly by academy graduates, but once it matures out of the teenage phase.
The top academy graduates turned college players from fall of 2013, which saw game time, play at Concordia and Clark College. Yes there are exceptions, but let’s be honest, we want Division I players on the road to the first team.
Paulson brought up the point that the U-23s are used for scouting, and that’s exactly what this year is for – SuperDraft scouting.
The 2015 U-23s roster is where I believe the academy should begin to make its presence felt. Academy products are required to train with the organization during the college years, and the U-23s provides that opportunity.
Despite the U-23s having won a championship in the early years, the Timbers U-23s are now growing up – we just have to wait at least one more year to grow out of the awkward phase.
(In terms of wishful thinking - can the USSDA PLEASE expand the U-13/14 program beyond the small pockets it has already created. A small set-up of the Northwest academies would be wonderful.)