The Timbers U23s trained today at Jeld-Wen Field ahead of their first ever US Open Cup game, which will be played at Jeld-Wen tomorrow evening after the conclusion of the Timbers' game in Houston. Under a sunny sky, the Little Timbers spent the morning working on possessing the ball and linking up with each other.
Today's practice was very similar in structure to a first team practice, something that the U23s coaching staff emphasizes as they develop these young players and evaluate them for possible MLS duty. With the Open Cup tomorrow, today's practice was a light one; starting off with fitness and passing drills before transitioning to a drill designed to get players' heads up and surveying the field both on attack and defense.
On the pitch were fifteen of the twenty signed U23s with Spencer Richey, Evyn Hewitt, Erik Hurtado, Eric Miller, and Keegan Rogers absent as they finish school this semester. Miller, who played right back for the United States U20s, arrives in town today but his status for the game tomorrow is still unknown. Richey and Rogers, two of the team's keepers, will be available for tomorrow's game as they will drive down from the University of Washington and Western Washington University respectively. Three trialists/practice players also trained with the team today although I did not get any information about them other than that one is from South Korea.
More practice notes plus quotes from Jim Rilatt, Steven Evans, and Mark Sherrod after the jump.
- Amos Magee was on the pitch setting up a practice session for the Timbers who did not travel to Houston for tomorrow's game.
- I spotted Brent Richards outside the stadium so it is pretty safe to say that he will not be in the 18 tomorrow.
- Emery Welshman impressed me early on with his ability to turn and shoot and later on with his ability to hold the ball up and bring others into the play.
- Mark Sherrod (which, contrary to prior information, is pronounced like Jared) battles for the ball until he creates a chance or the ball is cleared. He just doesn't give up on the ball, which is a great quality to have in a forward. His play in practice, and in Friday's game, reminds me of a young Brian Ching in some ways.
- Clark Phillips, who drew a penalty in the game on Friday, is a quick, strong guy but he seems prone to forcing the ball forward. Much of the team's practice today was centered around possessing the ball, but his inclination to turn and go ended up with the ball lost more often than not.
- Cam Vickers is tricky in both his footwork and passing, showing off a few nice flicks in practice today. Also, he looks like a 5'7", tan Jack Jewsbury from a distance.
- Anthony Hobbs, who played both right back and center back against Fraser Valley, looked very comfortable on the ball when getting into the attack. His smooth, heads up style reminds me of Ryan Kawulok.
- Justin Baarts, the lone keeper in practice today, was kept busy in goal today as every shot was coming his way. Although he was beaten by several very nice shots, Baarts came up with some beautiful saves.
On his expectations for the team this year
I'm a very critical person and the glass is always half empty. The team with [Freddie Braun] and [Jake Gleeson] I didn't think could do what they did. What I see is a quality group of young men that seems very willing to work with one another, therefore ego won't get in the way and they will allow us to coach. There's a lot of athleticism. There's a lot of technical ability. There's guys that like to score goals. You hope that luck doesn't have anything to do with it this time.
On his goals for the team
To make sure that the organization is very, very happy with the investment that they made, to influence these players with John Spencer's style which we want this club to play like, and we want to do well and make the playoffs. I, personally, would love a long run in the Open Cup so that some of these guys are give the opportunity to play in front of professional eyes and maybe advance themselves. Ultimately, I think the bottom line is to get one, two, or three more into that locker room because they performed so well in front of the organization.
On the game against the Fraser Valley Mariners last Friday
[I saw] some really good individual performances. A couple kids that I didn't have the benefit of seeing play that looked very solid. Overall they managed the game pretty well. The result was good but the performance was kind of stale. I think we got a little disinterested in the game. Fraser Valley and the style they play, it was hard to entertain ourselves, let alone them so we started to become a little robotic. Hopefully that is not instinctive in them, that when a better challenge comes the ball movement and body movement, and individual technique will show greater.
Defensively we were so-so. They didn't press us, but a better team would have tested Spencer a lot more. This year we hope it isn't the goalkeeper that gets tested.
On the Open Cup game tomorrow
I don't know that most of them understand what an Open Cup game is because very few of them have gone through the four years here, where we came close and for different reasons it didn't happen. I think they're starting to understand that the organization is excited about it, that there is something significent.
Today it was a day that I wanted to do something that challenged them mentally. They are very instinctive as players. They play on instinct, sometimes that works and sometimes that doesn't. Today it was to get their brain away from the Open Cup tomorrow and talk about decisions that they have to solve, and problems. It frustraited them. The better players did well, but it is to take them away from tomorrow. They've got well over twenty four hours to think about it now.
It's a men's league team. They're going to be gamers. They'll be fit because they are good. They'll be athletic and they'll have good knowledge. We've got to run and we've got to run and run and run and run and make them think, oh man, I've got to go to work tomorrow, do I want to chase this young kid? We're not going to out play them because we're not a team, we're individuals right now.
On what he knows about the U23s opponents, PSA Elite
I know Cameron Dunn well because Cameron was up here. A nice, quality, good human being. A good character guy. Other than that, [nothing].
On the balence between improving players and winning games
It is all about winning. Bottom line. This group seem to have the mentality that they are wlling to take information. They don't know it all. Their egos really seem in check so we can work on them while they are here at becoming better at different phases of the game while introducing our style of play which is such high tempo, high energy movement. They are struggling with that right now because physically it is challenging to them. I'm excited about this year because I think that we have a group, like we did two years ago, that want to listen. They want to go back better players, not just having had the experience of wearing a Timbers shirt.
I personally want to send them back to their universities better than we got them. They will be fitter than when they got here. That's a guarentee because of the way we play. We play a lot of possession, so I am hoping that through that possession they will be better on the ball, sharper on the ball. They'll move the ball faster, which is one of the demands of our organization, but ultimately we have to win.
Ultimately we have to take the investment of our owner and the involvement of the MLS staff and [Gavin Wilkinson]'s involvement and say, we have to produce a player or two makes the money invested worthwhile. If we do that, we win. They go hand in hand. Take last year for example, there were some players there who were very good. We needed a goal here and there and the season is very different, but what did we gain from last year? Not nearly as much as we did the year before. We found out that Ryan Kowaluk has good character and is a good player in a tough situation, we found out [Brent Richards] is what Brent was, so the organization has some confidence if they want to move forward with those players.
This year there is a half-dozen there that have a lot of potential and we need to make certain that not just in good times but in bad they can do their job.
On what the team needs to build a cohesive unit from the individuals in the squad
Training, with the way the schedule is that is going to be very limited. I think impressing upon some of the dominent personalities what we are looking for, they will impress the rest of them. Success, getting a win on Friday was big for them and getting a win tomorrow would be big for them and then they will be willing to buy in more to what you have to say. Some of them are kind of looking at me going, this guys is big and he's loud and I'm not quite sure about it. I don't know what their environment is like.
It is always safe to remember that most of these players are the topfrom where they come from and now they are in a pool where they may not be the top. They are going to have to adjust and, as I said earlier, I think the individuals here and their personalities will allow that adjustment without it seeming like they are giving something up.
On the role of the returning players in helping the team come together
I'd like to think that they take that responsibility but they are not the dominant personalities, necessarily, so it is harder for them to bring people to the table. They are much more willing to be a part of the group to come to the table. I think we have to rely on Stevie Evans, who has been here and he is obviously driven right now. He has a goal in mind and he is working towards it. We have to rely on Chris Harms, he has some experience with us and unfortunately had an injury that didn't allow him to play last year, and their leadership qualities to help.
I think we added a really good on field leader in Andrew Ribiero. Ribero will be one of the kids that people will take notice of. He seems very smooth, very calm and compitant in what he does. Mark Sherrod, I think Mark's personality is such that... one of the kids from last year's team mentioned that it was funny on Friday, when Mark scored a goal he called everybody in to celebrate together. Last year we had a few individuals that would run off by themselves and do a dance. That was noticed by returning players. That's a good quality that Mark brings. I hope [Ricardo Carrillo] and [Roberto Farfan] step up. They've been around for a long time. If they don't I think we're okay.
On bringing the team together early in the season
I think it comes down to experience. Me and Roberto and Richie have all had a few years. We know what the league is like and what the pace is like at the PDL level, so we are just trying to help everybody transition. I think it helps us to see what these guys are doing wrong and it betters our game too.
On how the team is coming together
I think all of our personalities are kind of the same this year. We want to be a team and we are unselfish. That is going to help us go a long way because we don't care if we get the assist, we don't care if we get the shut-out, we want to get wins and so I think our attitude and mentality is going to take us a long way.
On the team's goal for the year
We want to win the title again. We want to do well as a team and we want to go as far as we can together.
On how it feels to be in the open cup after narrowly missing out for the last three years
It feels great. I think we're all really excited. A little nervous, but good nervous. We're all really excited to have a chance to, hopefully go far in the tournament.
On what it will take from the team to make a deep run in the Open Cup
I think it is going to take a lot of effort and determination. We had our first game the other night and we realized that we have a little bit to work on, but I think we're going to come together and hopefully transition well.
On his two goal performance against Fraser Valley on Friday
It was great. I was really excited before the game. You know, the first game you get to play in the stadium, you couldn't ask for more than that. It was great to get the two goals.
On being denied the hattrick
It wasn't supposed to be, I don't think, that night. The goalie made a couple amazing saves so I don't think it was supposed to happen that night, but we got a win so it was plenty.
On how he ended up with the Timbers U23s
That's a good question. One day my coach just brought me into his office, and usually when you get that phone call to come into your coaches office you get a little nervous, and I came in there and he said, I've got two options for you today: you can either go home or you can go to Portland, Oregon to play for the Timbers. I was like, alright, I'll do that.
On his time in Portland so far
It's beautiful. It really is. The temperature versus back home in Knoxville, back home it is ninety degrees always and very kind of humid as well. Here it is just not too hot, not too cold. I guess I'm lucky because apparently everybody is saying that I brought good weather with me because it hasn't rained a drop since I've been here.
On fitting in with the team
They're all great guys. I just like playing with them. They're all from different colleges. Two of them are in my league back home, Conference USA, and I've always just played against them, never spoken a word, and now I get here and we are all good friends, so it is fun that way.