The Portland Timbers' USL side, T2, is back for another season and set to kick things off this weekend as Kharlton Belmar and company open 2016 with a match on road against the Swope Park Rangers this Saturday.
Year founded: 2015
Affiliation: Portland Timbers
2015 record: 11-15-2, 8th place in the Western Conference
2015 playoffs: Did not Qualify
Key additions: Alexis Meva, Dylan Damraoui, Akinjide Idowu, Villyan Bijev, Andre Lewis, Michael Gallagher, Kendall McIntosh, Trevor Morley (and more signings to come)
Key departures: Rundell Winchester, Blair Gavin, Fatawu Safiu, Santiago Biglieri, Danny O'Rourke, Matt Rose, Daniel Withrow, Steven Evans
Projected starting XI: Jake Gleeson*; Andrew Thoma*, Rennico Clarke, Anthony Manning, Taylor Peay; Dylan Damraoui, Akinjide Idowu, Andre Lewis; Neco Brett, Alexis Meva, Kharlton Belmar
*First team loanee
T2 are headed into their second season stocked with young and interesting talent, any piece of which could potentially pan out in a big way. Following on the back of a rocky first season that saw the team throw caution into the wind in each match, tying only two games all season, T2 will be looking to put together a more cohesive side for 2016, better balancing the need for player development with the urge to win.
Assuming that T2 can pull it together this season, this could be the first year where a T2 player is called up to the first team, particularly with MLS's new rules for loaning players up from an affiliate for non-league matches like the U.S. Open Cup or CONCACAF Champions League. With that intriguing prospect on the horizon, the hope for T2 this year is that watching them will give a glimpse at the future of the first team.
Players to Watch
Alexis Meva: The former Barcelona product (well, Barcelona academy) brings a notable pedigree to a T2 side and will hopefully bring along some of the goalscoring form that has yet to return after his unfortunate absence from competitive soccer during Barca's FIFA-enforced transfer ban.
Rennico Clarke: Clarke is returning for his second season with T2, but will get off to a slow start as he is still recovering from the late-season ACL tear that put him on the sidelines; before the tear, however, Clarke was receiving regular praise from Caleb Porter as he refined his all too raw skills and continued to show that his ceiling is sky-high.
Dylan Damraoui: Damraoui comes to the Timbers from the Club Brugge youth system where he last played for the U21s; a Belgian U21 youth international, if Damroaui's skills on the pitch are as big as the hair on his head then T2 fans are in for a treat.
The 2016 season will be a success if...
For T2 everything is secondary to identifying and building up players who could contribute to the Timbers' first team in the near future. With the side stocked with youth internationals, the Timbers will be looking hard for the next Darlington Nagbe, Diego Chara, or Jack Jewsbury. Winning is a concern as well, of course, and anything less than making the playoffs should be considered a disappointment. To get to where they need to be, this T2 side will need to get on the same page quickly, especially given the significant turnover from last season and perhaps the biggest change: a new head coach in former Timbers player Andrew Gregor.