The Portland Timbers made their USL PRO affiliate, Portland Timbers FC 2, official on Tuesday after months of speculation. What remains up in the air, however, is just how the team will be constructed.
With the MLS Players Union currently negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with the league and USL PRO changing rapidly as it further integrates with MLS, nobody yet knows how rosters will be structured in 2015 for the Timbers or Timbers 2.
However, Timbers 2 is not a new concept in MLS. The LA Galaxy are ahead of the game on this front, having launched their own USL PRO affiliate, LA Galaxy II or "Los Dos", this year.
At the Timbers' announcement, general manager Gavin Wilkinson talked about what he saw the Galaxy getting out of Los Dos.
They moved players back and forth on a regular basis, all of their players got plenty of playing time, and it gave the coaching staff of the first team the opportunity to see how the players were performing and bring in players that were performing well, but for the young guys that were not quite ready, still get valuable games in.
This matches up well with what the Timbers have said they hope to get out of having their own in-market USL PRO side.
So, what can we find out from the construction of Los Dos?
The Timbers sent out ten players on loan this year to a combination of teams including their temporary partner Sacramento Republic FC as well as Arizona United SC and Orange County Blues FC. The Galaxy did the same, but only had one destination for their loanees, Los Dos, and sent out a significently higher number over the course of the season.
Some players were sent out on loan for the duration of the USL season, including 2012 supplemental draft pick midfielder Rafael Garcia, 2013 first round draft pick forward Charlie Rugg, homegrown player defender Oscar Sorto, and a trio of homegrown player forwards in Bradford Jamieson IV, Jack McBean (who was once punched in the face by Hanyer Mosquera), and Raul Mendiola.
Potential Timbers that might fit this mold include Jake Gleeson, Steven Evans, Schillo Tshuma, or Bryan Gallego.
Not all of the Galaxy's loans were long term, however. The most notable example of a short term loan to "Los Dos" this year was Robbie Rogers' stint with the team, during which he was tested out as a left-back, a position he has had plenty of success in since rejoining the Galaxy first team.
Similarly, Rodney Wallace had a brief stint with
Sacramento Arizona as he made his recovery from his 2013 ACL tear which kept him out for the first half of the season.
One player on the Los Dos roster that stands out is former Galaxy player Laurent Courtois. A 36 year-old french midfielder, Courtois brings a level of experience and leadership to Los Dos that few of the youngsters on the roster with him can even begin to approach.
A player like Courtois gives the Galaxy a known quantity on the team, someone who can help give direction to his younger teammates.
If the Timbers wanted a player like this, which Wilkinson did not rule out as a possibility when asked about the importance of bringing in experienced players along with youth, they could look to a number of recent Timbers to fill the gap. Current Montreal Impact defender Futty Danso is one player that comes to mind as a potential fan favorite who could return to Portland as a leader of the second team.
Although he is currently still an important part of the first team 18, Jack Jewsbury looks like the only current Timber that would make sense to move into such a role. However, the club captain does not yet look set to move on from top flight (in the US at least) soccer and it would be a surprising move to see him moved to Timbers 2.
Not every player on Los Dos is coming through the Galaxy first team, however. Jaime Villareal came directly to Los Dos from the Galaxy academy program. Joining the team directly out of high school, Villareal sacrificed his NCAA eligibility to go directly into the professional game.
While the Timbers may have players that they want to keep in their system rather than sending to college, this type of signing has a lot of questions remaining to be answered about it, especially the question of continued homegrown contract availability and if that will be sacrificed by signing with the USL PRO side. Wilkinson did not directly address this, but lumped it in with a number of issues that have yet to be resolved with the league.
Not every college player with potential goes through MLS's system of drafts, particularly as the Super and Supplemental drafts have shrunk in size over recent seasons. To that end, Los Dos snapped up several college players who went undrafted last year. Midfielder Alejandro Covarrubias of Cal State Domingues Hills, defender Joe Franco of Cal State Northridge, defender Lee Nishanian of Cal State San Bernedino, and goalkeeper Nicholas Shackelford of St. Louis University all played with Los Dos in 2014.
The Galaxy's college group seem to be locals (Shackelford went to Cal State Irvine before transferring) that were either overlooked or signed to fill in where needed.
The Timbers may not draw on quite the same local college talent pool as the Galaxy, but this is where the Timbers U-23s will pay off, providing the Timbers a look at a number of young players who may fall outside the usual draft fodder.
Several players in recent years that have graduated through the U-23s before seeking their fortunes elsewhere may have ended up here with Timbers 2 already in place. New Zealand youth international fullback Anthony Hobbs was a significant contributor for the U-23s in 2012 and 2013, but was passed over in the draft in part due to his international status. Local boy Roberto Farfan and Washington product Cam Vickers also come to mind as players that might have made their way onto the Timbers 2 roster from the U-23s.
A number of current pros joined Los Dos for their first year in USL PRO as well, adding a solid core to the team while giving the players a more direct link to the possibility of playing in MLS. Los Dos picked up Travis Bowen from the wreckage of Phoenix FC, Logan Emory from the NASL's San Antonio Scorpians, Cody Laurendi from the NASL's Fort Lauderdale Strikers, and Daniel Steres from USL PRO side the Wilmington Hammerheads.
Finally, perhaps the most intriguing possibility for the Timbers 2 comes in the team's ability to bring in a number of young foreign players and develop them without the pressure of taking up a first team roster spot.
Los Dos brought in a number of young players from teams outside the US for their inaugural season. Including one player from Macedonia, one from Serbia, and three from France, plus one American returning from playing in Germany, Los Dos had a healthy continental contingent on hand for 2014.
For their part, the Timbers have already had several young, (probably) foreign players in on trial as potential signings for Timbers 2. Looking at previous signings to the Timbers, forward Sebastian Rincon stands out as a player that would have benefited from the playing time and involvement that a spot on Timbers 2 would have provided, rather than two years in exile on the fringes of the first team.
The two teams have differed slightly in their approach to these foreign players so far, with the Timbers' trialists primarily being in the 18-19 year-old range (as far as we know), while the Galaxy's foreign players are mostly in their early to mid twenties.
So, with all that in mind, how would you construct the Timbers 2 roster? Who would you include?