The USL season kicks off this weekend and Portland Timbers 2 will start off 2017 by hosting Real Monarchs SLC at Providence Park on Saturday. To get ourselves ready for the season, we have joined our fellow SB Nation blogs in previewing the local USL side.
Year Founded: 2015
Affiliation: Portland Timbers
2016 record, place in conference standings: 12W, 4D, 14L (40 pts), 9th place in Western Conference
2016 playoffs: Missed playoffs on goal differential tie breaker
Key Additions: Michael Amick, Tomás Granitto, Harold Hanson, Shaquille Jimenez
Key Departures: Kharlton Belmar
Projected Starting XI (4-4-2): McIntosh; Jimenez, Clarke, Amick, Bjornethun; Brett, Granitto, Mohamed, Bijev; Ebobisse, Williams
T2 narrowly missed the playoffs last season, missing out on mere goal differential with Orange County. The reason they got that close? They caught fire like no one else after a 4-3 comeback win vs LA II (down 3-0 in first half, scored 4 unanswered to win) and never looked back, ending the season on an impressive 5 game win streak. Led by Andrew Gregor in his second season at the helm, T2 will try to make the playoffs for the first time in their short history. But the focus will be, as always, development first.
As a MLS ‘2’ side, T2 faces challenges different from the independent USL sides, namely, building chemistry and consistency. But that should be on offer more this season as both Gregor and many of the core T2 players and first team loanees will return in 2017. Players that were signed from T2 to the first team like Rennico Clarke and Victor Arboleda are likely to see most of their minutes with T2 again as first team loans. T2 started off slowly last season as new, younger players and a new head coach adjusted to each other. This season should see improvements and T2 might just make the playoffs if they replicate some consistency from of their end of season run from 2016.
Why You Should Watch T2 in 2017
T2 finds success when it develops young talent into first team MLS contributors. In 2016, they signed Clarke, Arboleda, and academy product Marco Farfan (who saw lots of minutes with T2 and made huge strides forward as a player). When you watch T2 you are watching a number of players who aim to be first team contributors. In 2017, a new group of young prospects join last season’s young core, and have the potential to be very exciting to see as they battle around in the mid table and fight for playoff positioning.
3 Players to Watch
Jeremy Ebobisse: The Timbers dropped $100,000 in MLS funny money to move up and grab Ebobisse as the second highest draft pick they’ve ever had. A striker with a lot of promise and potential, Jeremy could be the next Fanendo Adi for the first team. While Adi is on fire and Darren Mattocks his likely sub, Ebobisse should see a good amount of minutes with T2 to stay sharp and prepare for his first team debut.
Villyan Bijev: The 2016 USL assist leader returns. He also led T2 in goals scored. The final run of form for T2 coincided with a run of form for Bijev himself. As he goes, so goes T2. He should be entering 2017 ready to go; already scoring goals with a brace in the final preseason game.
Harold Hanson: The youngest player on T2, currently 17 and wont hit 18 until July. We don’t know much about him but he does come from a pedigree of youth national team experience having played with the U-16s, U-17s, and U-18s. T2 did really well putting it’s faith in a 17-year-old outside back last season, can lightning strike twice?
The 2017 Season Will Be A Success If...
T2 can finish in a playoff position. 2016 was spent getting the system and development right. And the first team is already benefiting from 2016’s player development. This season will still see player development as the top priority (it will always be the top priority) but with a full season to get things worked out, Gregor might be looking to put a bit more emphasis on results in 2017.
Play The Kids Podcast, our T2-centric podcast (new episode this Friday the 24th!)