On March 6th, a new season will begin and we will see fresh young faces enter the Portland Timbers first team. The Timbers are sitting on some of the hottest prospects in the MLS and, given the circumstances, we might see more of them this year. The three players being discussed are all under 23 and this season is their opportunity. With the playoffs on Caleb Porter's mind, opportunities for experimentation should be plentiful.
Taylor Peay entered the 2014 MLS Super Draft as a product of the University of Washington and as one of the better backs in the NCAA. At 6 feet and 3 inches tall, he is a massive player with some pace to boot. While he was a bit raw coming out of college, he has begun to develop into a real talent that could see some time in the 18 this season. Peay spent most of last season on loan to a USL side, the OC Blues, and did well there. However, in 2015 he should be seeking first team exposure.
Photo Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports
As visualized in the photo above, Peay is a big, athletic player. Peay's biggest knock last season was his lack of experience, a clear issue with all young player. After his loan to the OC Blues, Peay has definitely grown and become more aware of the pace of MLS and the physical intensity of the league. While Peay has all the physical attributes and work rate a coach would want out of a young center back, he also has developed an attacking mindset. When given the opportunity Peay will push up with his pace and physical size and help create plays.
Here Peay makes his Timbers debut against the Orlando City U23 team in the US Open Cup, scoring his first goal with the club. Skip to the 1:28 mark for the goal for Peay.
This is by no means the greatest goal of the season, but it is clear evidence of Peay's willingness to get up-field and join the attack when the team is confident. Peay will be in contention for minutes in the coming season despite being a young defender.
Photo Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports
Alvas Powell, the Timbers' Jamaican youngster, is starting to truly show his talents in the team's 2015 preseason friendlies. In a turn for the good, management bought Powell's loaned contract and signed him to a long term deal with the club back in December. This is a solid showing from Caleb Porter to commit to signing the pacey right back from Portmore United F.C. Powell has had starts in both 2013 and 2014, but has not been fully utilized or broken into the top team. At only 20 years of age, it is not a concerning issue with so much to still learn. At the end of last year and in recent friendlies, though, Powell has shown quite the utility on the pitch for the Timbers. I chose him as did many as the Man Of The Match in the game vs the Houston Dynamo a week ago, shutting down Brad Davis and pressing up his wing, controlling his side of the pitch with relative ease.
Powell has developed well under the system Caleb Porter has rigged together since taking over the Timbers. Powell has played a grand total of 20 (5 in 2013, 15 in 2014) games for Portland and started 15 of them (4 in 2013, 11 in 2014). There has been a clear increase in Powell's playtime and call-ups to the first team since first joining the Timbers late in 2012. There has also been a drastic increase in Powell's offensive output season to season. In 2013 in the 5 games he played, Powell had 4 shots and no goals. In 2014, Powell had 14 shots, 2 assists, and 2 goals. Despite shooting at a similar rate each year, that is clear and evident growth given opportunity to show such. If this rate of improvement continues, Powell should be a staple of the 2015 season at right back.
Here we have two goals from Powell that share something in common with each other: the great Diego Valeri. Many of the Timbers team find themselves linking up with Valeri, but for a defender to be scoring off of the passes and crosses throws opposing teams for a loop. The defending teams just can't follow Powell with all the other attacking threats on the pitch.
First, we have a ball headed in by Powell.
Then, toward the end of the season, we have another fine goal from the Jamaican.
These two goals are evidence of the attacking spirit of Powell, a trait which he shares with Taylor Peay. Powell has definitely taken to the team quicker, and has made quite the impact with his slightly smaller stature. The fact is, Powell packs a punch and it is up to Caleb Porter how much of that he would like to unleash on the pitch this season.
The last on the list is USMNT defender Matt Besler's kid brother, who the Timber's acquired with the No. 5 pick in the 2015 MLS Super Draft, Nick Besler.
Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
The young Besler is the only one on here with no playtime yet for the club outside of the preseason friendlies, but that is sure to change. While he is in the shadow of his older brother, a member of Sporting KC and a USMNT star, he has a chance in Portland to tell his own story. In college Besler played a defensive midfield role, so his defensive abilities will be at the forefront. A strong defensive midfielder is something the Timber's could take serious advantage of. At length discussed in here are the attacking abilities of the Timber defenders, but someone to link up the back line is greatly needed. Besler, if he can live up to his potential can be that man.
There is limited footage of Besler on the field, but here is some footage of Besler showing his versatility, leading his collegiate team (Notre Dame) to a victory in overtime.
Besler is the least likely to break into anything on the first team, but he can be useful even this early. In a situation where Portland needs a more defensive mindset, Besler can be put on to strengthen that line, and allow the attackers of the team to go deeper into the upper third for shots. There are several young players that have already earned small bits of play time that could easily be argued as more important at this point. This is true, Besler will fit a much needed position few on the team currently can fit in. If Besler plays well in Timbers 2, and does all that is requested of him, fully expect Besler to see playtime on the first team this season. Whether it be his name that gets him there or not, his ability should carry him.
There are plenty of young players that can make a huge impact this coming season. Jeanderson, Schillo Tshuma, and Maximiliano Urruti are all 23 or younger, while even Darlington Nagbe is only 24 . These few are front-runners to make an impact at such a young age. Each player has to deal with their own personal battles, and even when performing the coach may not require their skills at that right time to break in. All of them will be at the mercy of Porter's tactics, and injuries on the first team.
These boys should get a shot at some point.