The 2023 MLS SuperDraft happened on Wednesday (never you mind that it’s still 2022) and the Portland Timbers held five picks in the latest edition of the league’s annual college draft. They selected four players to join their ranks for preseason, each having hopes of showing enough to earn a contract with the first team or with Timbers 2 in MLS NEXT Pro.
With their first pick at number 15 in the first round, the Timbers selected Noel Caliskan out of Loyola Marymount University. The 22-year-old midfielder was one of the highest rated midfielders in the WCC conference in 2022, where as a junior he was named WCC Player of the Year and WCC Midfielder of the Year.
Born in Cologne, Germany, Caliskan spent the majority of his college career as both a central and defensive midfielder. Considering that the Timbers already have a number of options at that position, it may difficult for Caliskan to earn a first-team contract right out of preseason training camp. Still, the young player has a very solid collegiate pedigree, and his skill as a box-to-box midfielder was not lost on those who saw his game on the field:
I was in the grad year above him at LMU. Best player I’ve seen come out of the program. Class above the rest of the WCC, which is a standout soccer conference— Derek Conratt (@DerekC_99) December 22, 2022
Like 2022 first-round draftee Justin Rasmussen last year, Caliskan will be fighting for a first team contract in the preseason. He also will very likely have at least one year on Timbers 2 to develop.
The Timbers had to wait a while before their next pick, and in the second round with the 44th overall pick they selected a ‘keeper. Ryan Bilichuk was Portland’s second selection, and the 22-year-old goalkeeper was most recently of Elon University in North Carolina. He spent the 2018 - 2021 seasons with South Carolina before transferring to Elon, and in the 2022 season he posted 11 shutouts in 19 games with a 0.63 goals against average.
Prior to his collegiate career, Bilichuk trained with Barca Academy, FC Barcelona’s United States’ soccer residency program. Bilichuk also faces long odds to break into the goalkeeping rotation, but will likely get a shot to show his skills with T2.
The Timbers took two more players in the third round of the SuperDraft. The first (73rd overall) was fullback Jaden Jones-Riley from Dayton University. The 21-year-old defender played primarily at right back for the Flyers, providing speed and chipping in two goals in the 2022 campaign.
The final player drafted (85th overall) was defender Tyler Clegg from James Madison University. The centerback anchored JMU’s backline and served as one of the team captains during the 2022 campaign.
Both Clegg and Jones-Riley play in positions of need for the Timbers (centerback and right-back), but due to their age and lack of experience either breaking through into the first team in 2023 is unlikely. Nonetheless, both players are expected to join Caliskan and Bilichuk in Portland’s preseason training camp this winter.
The Timbers had the very last pick in the draft (88th overall) but chose to pass rather than pick a fifth player.
Portland is expected to open training camp sometime in January as they prepare for the 2023 Coachella Valley Invitational, which will take place from February 6-18 in Indio, California. There, the Timbers, with SuperDraft picks in tow, will face a trio of MLS teams in preseason friendlies: the LA Galaxy, Toronto FC, and NYCFC.