If you’ve ever dived into any form of American soccer media, you might’ve heard the phrase #Playthekids. However, when that topic comes up, you often never hear it in the same sentence as "Portland Timbers," a team that has only given 362 out of 9,862 available minutes to T2 players so far this season.
When you hear the term, it comes up with teams such as FC Dallas, the New York Red Bulls, and the Philadelphia Union. Those are teams that have seen academy graduates make their way to Europe including the likes of US internationals Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams. The Timbers may not be in the upper-echelon of this category--they believe in spending on proven commodities that can slot in right away and contribute-- but they slowly seem to be taking steps to open up the pipeline between T2 and the first team.
Not every team can be an LAFC or Atlanta- two teams that seem to have an unlimited budget to invest in Designated Players. However, there are ways to get that level of funds, and it’s by selling players the team has developed. For example, Brian Fernandez is the most expensive signing history in Timbers at what is reported to be around 9 million dollars according to transfermarkt.com. Meanwhile, Atlanta United spent a combined $18 million dollars on Josef Martinez and Ezequiel Barco. It’s hard to compete with teams that have that type of money.
Down Diego Chara for last nights game against the Houston Dynamo, the Timbers turned to not Andres Flores, but 24-year-old Renzo Zambrano. In his first MLS outing, he played the full 90 minutes against one of the most dominant attacking teams in MLS on the road and held his own. He may not be Diego Chara, but he showed flashes of his potential that left many fans impressed throughout the game.
Zambrano may have been an unexpected addition to the starting eleven last night, but could this be a sign that Gio is more willing to give younger players from T2 a go, even if they’re just 35’ appearances when the team needs depth? And if this is the case, which players might have the best shot at receiving an opportunity on the first team as Zambrano did?
Asprilla has the most minutes of a player who has played consistently for T2 and the first team. He has 156 minutes for the first team but is T2’s leading scorer with four goals in the USL. He’s the most obvious name to get thrown in with the first team, but still, it’s Dairon Asprilla, and the team might be better off withholding him for the playoffs.
Another obvious name is Marco Farfan, who has gotten run in the past and has looked relatively good for T2. However, he hasn’t played a minute under Savarese yet this season and seems to have fallen out of favor, especially with the depth at the outside back position.
Two interesting players to keep an eye on are Marvin Loria and Eryk Williamson. Loria is just coming back from an injury and played 45 minutes against the Tacoma Defiance last Sunday. He’s scored both his goals from outside the box this season, but more importantly, he has a more successful passing rate as a forwarward (78.7%) and has four key passes through four games. He’s the type of player who will surely get time in the U.S Open Cup and potentially first team minutes when the team is impacted by injuries.
Williamson looks to be a player that could be in the first team’s starting 18 sooner rather than later. As I mentioned in a recent fanpost, he’s listed as a winger, but seems to be everywhere on the pitch. He can get on the ball in the back and provide the key pass in the final-third seconds later. He leads the entire USL Championship with seven assists, and a whopping 23 key passes already this season. Williamson could easily help spell a player like Valeri or Blanco later into the season when there naturally needs to be more rotations.
Opening up more of a pathway between T2 and the first team would benefit the team as far as it would help develop players who could maybe be transferred in the future for a sum that could help the Timbers continue to reinvest, as has been the new wave in MLS.
Just recently, the New York Red Bulls signed USL Championship leading striker Tom Barlow who has eight goals on the season for NYRB 2. That’s the type of system you want to see and an example for the rest of the league. Hopefully, it is coming to fruition in Portland.
What do you think? Should the Timbers emphasize calling up some of their T2 players that deserve the time more? If so, who would be the best fit?