Right now T2 has only 10 players on their roster at this time. But they will be getting more players on loan from the first team and we still have about a month before they kick off in Kansas with new USL addition, Swope Park Rangers.
The average age of the 10 players is only 21.3 years old. And for a team where the priority is developing talent to hopefully reach the first team, a young squad is what you want to see. To take a look at who T2 has right now, go back and read Will's report on the state of the T2 roster.
Part of that low average age is the addition of two new highly touted international signings in Dylan Damraoui and Alexis Meva. These two players were added after Will's T2 roster report but are two of the most exciting prospects thus far.
There are even young free agents visiting Portland:
Well I'll be. Villyan Bijev is visiting Pittock Mansion with T2 guys. #RCTID Background: https://t.co/R8ODD1hDXS https://t.co/Ckca31HQqN— Chris Rifer (@ChrisRifer) February 26, 2016
*To be clear, there have been zero rumors about Bijev joining T2 and he could just be here visiting friends. But as Chris said "Well I'll be"
So we have a lot of excitement being generated with T2 at this time. But should we expect the only pro team left in town without a championship to go win it at all? Of course not. While that would certainly be welcome the stated objective of T2 is to be a development team first and foremost. Based on that, let's take a look at who is signed with the first team that we can expect to see lots of minutes with T2 in 2016.
Last season, we saw a number of prospects gain valuable minutes and develop within the Timbers system. Even though T2 at times did not seem to play like the first team, players like Taylor Peay and George Fochive were able to play in relatively meaningful matches and move up to the first team when they were needed. Fochive is probably the biggest success story of last season. A lower draft pick by the first team, he went on loan to other USL teams in 2014. In 2015 the Timbers drafted Nick Besler but it was Fochive who stood out and made it into rotation to backup and support the central defensive mid position with Zemanski out injured. And at the end of the championship run the Timbers were able to make a small profit in selling Fochive abroad. We don't want to sell every good player. This situation worked out in favor of the club and player, and everyone was generally happy on the business side of things. But one aspect of T2's existence is this exact situation. Give the depth players of the first team valuable and meaningful minutes to develop within an identical system to the first team. Then they can be ready to be called upon when needed.
So who, currently on the first team roster, should we keep an eye on this season? Sophomore Nick Besler and first round draft pick Ben Polk are the first two to come to mind.
Before the Timbers sold George Fochive, I would've been thinking Nick Besler might have one foot out the door this season based on his performances last season. And maybe he still does, but the sale of Fochive opens up space within a deep midfield to give Besler a full season to prove that he belongs in MLS. Last season this worked for Fochive, who made strides in his sophomore season and successfully broke into the first team. This season, the expectation would likely be the same for Besler the younger. We don't know how the first team staff judge season expectations. But to be successful in 2016, I think Nick Besler needs to make the most of every minute on the field. He needs to push himself to be in the Starting XI for every T2 match and maybe a few bench appearances for the first team. It won't be easy to get those central midfield minutes in T2 either just having to compete with the returning Tim Payne and new signing Akinjide Idowu. But if Besler is making the Starting XI for T2 and improving on the defensive side of the ball as well as his distribution from deep midfield, he should be successful in 2016.
After Besler, we have draftee Ben Polk. With Ben it seems likely they will use T2 to find out if they can mold him into a winger where first team depth is currently light. This is what we have seen of Polk in the preseason working the wings along with unsigned draftee Nico Brett (more on Brett in part two). Depending on his MLS contract it is probably a safe bet to give Polk two seasons to prove himself. But his rookie season will be key in determining if the Timbers can use him as a winger. So look for Polk to find lots of minutes with T2 on the wing and doing everything he can to rack up the assist and goal count. A success could merely be determined by his ability to develop into a winger with potential. But since Porter hasn't been known to play rookies, we should expect Polk to be starting a lot for T2 in 2016.
We also can likely expect Andy Thoma, Anthony Manning, and Michael Seaton to see a lot of minutes being loaned to T2.
With Andy Thoma, he got a lot of minutes with T2 last season at left back and that should continue depending on the depth situation with the first team. If everyone is healthy he has a lot of people ahead of him at left back, but with Klute currently working his way back into minutes anything could be possible for Thoma in the early part of the season. But another successful season as T2's first choice left back should be expected as he continues to develop into what the organization wants to see out of its outside backs.
Anthony Manning will likely be a first choice center back for T2 and continue his second season getting minutes leading the back line of T2 with Rennico Clarke, once Clarke is fully healed and able to play again. Both of these defenders are looked up highly by the staff and if they continue to develop with T2 could very well be the first team central defense of the future. Manning's expectation should be lots of starting T2 minutes with bench appearances for the first team as he is likely 4th in the depth chart behind Ridgewell, Borchers, and Taylor.
Lastly, Michael Seaton was acquired from DC United mid season last year. The first challenge for incumbent starting striker Kharlton Belmar, Seaton was slow to work his way into T2 but a good part of that was he spent time on international duty with Jamaica and came in towards the latter half of T2's short first season. So for 2016, I would expect to see Seaton fighting for minutes at what could be a deep attack for T2. He should be expected to play centrally. Last season he only ever played centrally and usually replaced Belmar. When they were both on the field, it was Belmar who slid over to the wing opposite Rundell Winchester usually. To be successful Seaton needs to be getting lots of minutes with T2 up top and showing the staff just why they were right to bring him to the Rose City.
Up next in part two, we look at the unsigned draft picks and current T2 roster returning from last season. In part three I will take a look at the new international signings that T2 has picked up and whether we should be excited or ecstatic.
Check out Part Two and Part Three