Players like Belmar and Besler will have some young players with extremely high potential to compete against for minutes this season. T2 have currently signed three very young, very promising, internationals to T2 contracts. And this is building a little bit of a buzz ahead of their sophomore season in USL.
First up is Akinjide Idowu. A central defensive midfielder who can "mark the devil out of the game". I know its only been quoted once for this kid, but what a quote. I like it so much that I keep bringing it up. But it does provide a starting point in what we start to build in our minds as the expectations for this player. Signed directly to T2 and the first of three internationals brought in, it signaled a different approach by the Timbers on what they were doing to build the T2 roster in 2016. I think I'm safe in guessing Idowu to be a presumptive starter for T2. As should the other two signings. And if T2 play the same 4-3-3, with inverted triangle and single pivot, Idowu is going to be T2's Diego Chara. What we want to see out of Idowu is consistent flashes of potential to be the Chara of the future. He is young and young players will make mistakes. But if he starts and T2 plays a 4-3-3 then we want to see him develop into the next Diego Chara over multiple seasons. But his first season should be Idowu clearly making those steps. And if he does, a first team contract will be in his future. Even if T2 plays a 4-2-3-1 double pivot (perhaps to get two CDMs needed minutes), Idowu would still be held to the high standards of a Chara-esque midfield workrate.
Another central midfielder that was added was Belgian youth international Dylan Damraoui. Highlights have him playing as a #10 mostly, but it has been said that he can play box-to-box too. A lot of comparisons, and not just because of the hair, have been drawn between Dylan and Marouane Fellaini. Could T2 have the next Fellaini in their midst? Probably not at the age of 18 and during his first season in America. But the potential does exist. We don't know how Damraoui might be used with T2 other than playing in a central midfield spot. So we don't know if we are going to look for him to be the next Diego Valeri or Darlington Nagbe. But again, a young player with enormous potential, the idea will be working towards moving up to the first team as early as next season.
Up top, T2 brought in Barcelona academy product and forward, Alexis Meva. Just coming from Barcelona's academy brings with it a certain level of expectations and excitement. With Meva being a natural #9, I would expect to see him start and develop in the central forward position for T2. But it has been reported that he can play out on the wing too. So while we aren't sure where we'll see him, flexibility of position is always a good thing. I still feel strongest, given the current roster and possible loans, that Meva will be the center forward as T2 looks to possibly work Belmar, Brett, and others in the wing positions. But for as long as wing depth is an issue with the first team, there will be the possibility that the organization see him as a future winger. Only time will tell though. But it is exciting to have him on the squad nonetheless. And hopefully we can see him pop away a bunch of goals whether from centrally or the wing.
So with first team loans, and T2 players old (relatively) and new, what should we expect from T2 as a team this season? Only 6 teams will make the playoffs, and there will be plenty of competition as western conference teams battle for those top 6 spots. But if everything clicks for T2 in 2016, then they will get young players valuable minutes and should be able to make the playoffs. But I think making it in the top 6 is a scenario for everything clicking. The emphasis will be developing the young players at T2's disposal and working more this season to emulating the first team's system (and success on the field). As a development side, the strongest emphasis isn't always on winning or the success of being high in the USL standings. A successful season will likely be determined on whether or not T2 can get either a roster player or a first team loanee that chance to break into the first team squad. Whether that is one of the three new internationals having a breakout season or helping a player like Nick Besler realize his potential, the key will always be playing the kids.
In case you missed them, Part One & Part Two.
**In 2016, I will co-host a new podcast focusing on T2, USL, and youth/player development. Titled "Play The Kids", look for us to start broadcasting in mid-to-late March ahead of T2's season opener vs Swope Park Rangers. Follow on twitter @PTKPodcast