While their teammates were beginning to return to school for preseason camps, the Portland Timbers U23s took on a different task: facing a group professionals, including several who have cemented themselves as starters for their MLS sides.
The Inaugural MLS Homegown Game pitted the U23s against the MLS Homegrown squad, and while this match looked on paper to be a kick around for the pros, the U23s had other ideas.
The first half started out a bit flat, as the teams felt each other out, but a theme became clear: the U23s were here to play.
After an early chance from Russell Teibert (Vancouver) into Calvin Calbert (Chivas USA), the U23s began to assert themselves, taking control of possession and pressing goalkeeper Matt Lampson (Columbus), as leading scorers Kharlton Belmar and Fatai Alashe combined for a sequence of chances that just missed, while James Moberg, loaned to the U23s from Washington Crossfire for this match, put one of his several chances off the post.
After ceding control of the match to the U23s, the Homegrowns regained some attacking form, as Teibert and Bradford Jameson (LA Galaxy) combined for some chances, but without much support from their teammates, they were unable to get past goalkeeper Justin Luthy and the U23 defense.
The U23s would close out the half by going back out on the attack, as the U23s' Miguel Aguilar and Christian Roldan made their presences more known, but the half would end scoreless, despite the best efforts of the U23s.
Coming out of the break, the Homegrowns made several substitutions, looking to give themselves a more offensive look, but the U23s got the first chance, as Belmar was nearly found in the corner, but the pass was too strong.
The Homegrowns would assert themselves more in the match as their substitutes got their feet under them, but the U23s continued to show their strength as a unit, as Belmar had a couple of changes and Aguilar took a rocked of a shot from distance, that went just wide.
The U23s and Homegrown traded chances for the next several minutes, as Belmar led the U23s attack and midfielder Jacori Hayes became more of a presence in the match, playing the Valeri role well for a U23s side that did a solid job of replicating the formation and style of the first team.
Chances would occur in spurts for both sides as the clock wound down, but in the end neither side would see the back of the net, despite the best efforts of both sides.
In the end it was an enjoyable match for those in attendance, despite the lack of scoring, and a chance for the Timbers U23s to showcase their program to a national audience. While the program will no doubt grow with Timbers Academy prospects over the next several years, the ability to draw top class college prospects will be necessary to keep pace in a tough PDL Northwest Division that just saw the Kitsap Pumas fall in the PDL Championship match on Sunday.