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Timbers Academy Teams Return to Action After Winter Break

After two weeks off of training and over a month without a game, the Portland Timbers Academy teams returned to action last weekend with a pair of games in San Jose against the De Anza Force and San Jose Breakers.

We don't have any pictures of the academy kids, so here are the Timbers Army.
We don't have any pictures of the academy kids, so here are the Timbers Army.

The Timbers Academy teams came together well in the first half of their inaugural season, with both the U-16's and U-18's hovering around the middle of their respective league tables, but the second half of the the year has gotten off to a rough start with a pair of losses for the U-18's and a loss and a tie for the U-16's.

The U-16's started off the weekend with a 1-0 loss to the league leading Del Anza Force on Saturday, before going on to draw the San Jose Breakers 1-1 on Sunday thanks to Jacob Kempf's equalizer, his first goal of the season. The U-18's also started off the weekend with a 1-0 loss to the Force on Saturday and followed that up on Sunday with a 4-2 loss to the Breakers, with forward James Nosack and winger Lucas Cawley both getting on the board.

Last weekend's road trip to San Jose contained the first two of five away games games before the Timbers Academy see their next home action in March. Despite the number of away games, academy director and U-16's head coach Mike Smith believes the team was prepared to jump back into the thick of things after the long winter break, despite going a month an a half since playing a game in mid-December.

Over the last three weeks since returning to training, the Timbers Academy teams have played a number of scrimmages, both against local men's teams and U-18 squads. Those friendlies saw the return of several players who did not feature in the first half of the season, including midfielder Antonio Porreco to the Timbers U-16's after a six month absence due to injury. According to Mike Smith, in a friendly with a local U-18 team last week, Porreco scored four goals in the second half from his central midfield spot.

If the Timbers Academy can weather this long series of road games, they will find themselves returning home for nine of their last ten games of the season and poised to make a run for one of the two playoff berths afforded to their division. For the U-16's that means erasing a twelve point deficit behind the Seattle Sounders U16's, while the U-18's find themselves in a similar situation, trying to catch the Vancouver Whitecaps U-18's and erase an eight point deficit.

The Timbers Academy teams play their next games away against the San Juan Soccer Club, in 9th place out of 9 on the U-16's table and 8th place on the U-18's, on February 23rd. Their first home match of 2013 is on March 16th against Strikers FC.

Academy Practice Notes

I had the opportunity to drop by an academy practice last week before the teams headed south to San Jose and had a few take away's from what I saw of the U-16's as they played out a full field scrimmage.

The U-16's showed off plenty of possession play and pressure high up the field, akin to the system being implemented in the Timbers first team, but did not seem as comfortable keeping the ball among the back four as the Timbers have in their recent outings, although the small size of the turf field at the team's Beaverton training facility certainly made it harder to hold the ball.

Forward Rolando Velasquez, who spent some time training with the US National team last year alongside Rubio Rubin, immediatly stood out to me as he showed off some serious speed, getting in behind the defense with impunity early on. He also showed off some real audacity, trying to chip the keeper in a one on one situation, only to put the ball wide.

Midfielder Issa Hassan was a big part of his side's successful possession play, providing similar simple passes and outlets to Diego Chara. Despite being on the small end of the spectrum, Hassan was also able to hold off bigger players and dribble well with the ball when a pass did not immediately present itself.

Keeper Joe Wheelwright was a loud presence at the back for the U-16's, keeping his defense organized and quickly clearing them out of his box. Wheelwright did not face many shots early on, but by the end of the game he was forced into action several times and came up big, including a nice save going one on one with a forward.

Both Wheelwright and Hassan trained with the Timbers first team toward the end of the season last year.

At the other end of the pitch, the other U-16's keeper, Joe Martin, was forced into action early on and came up with a good save and followed it up with a great diving save.

Jesse Garcia-Aguilar impressed with his set pieces, including a well struck free kick from just outside the box that was only denied by the far-post.

U-18 College Commitments

With seven academy players already having committed to colleges on Wednesday (National Signing Day), expect more to come as the Academy season, and the school year, continues. While Oregon State and the University of Washington are the most common, and obvious, possibilities, one player could also end up at Stanford and was reportedly looking at Harvard earlier in the year.