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Portland Timbers Hire Larry Sunderland as Youth Technical Director

Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

The rumors of back office moves for the Portland Timbers this offseason are starting to come to fruition today with the team adding their first major hire of the year, Larry Sunderland, as youth technical director this morning. The former academy director for the Chicago Fire, Sunderland will work with youth sporting director Mike Smith to oversee the Timbers Academy development system.

News of the signing was first broken by Fire Confidential on Sunday.

While with the Fire, Sunderland oversaw an academy system that produced five homegrown players that signed with the Fire first team, most notably midfielder Harry Shipp who has played 66 of the Fire's last 68 league matches since signing with the team in 2014. Other homegrown signings produced during Sunderland's tenure include Victor Pineda, Chris Ritter, Collin Fernandez, and Patrick Doody. Pineda made four appearances for the Fire before moving to Indy XI first on loan in 2014 then permanently in 2015, Ritter ad his option declined this offseason after making 17 appearances with the first team since 2014, and Fernandez and Doody are both still on the Fire roster, having made one and seven appearances respectively.

While the Timbers had a strong showing from the Academy's U-16s in 2015, enough to earn Andrew Gregor the West Conference Coach of the Year, the team has yet to produce an academy product that has made an impact with the first team. Since the Timbers joined MLS, the team has signed Brent Richards, Steven Evans, and Bryan Gallego to homegrown contracts. While Richards did make six appearances for the first team in 2012, his time with the team was cut short by an ACL tear during the 2013 preseason that he was only able to return from this year, playing with Portland Timbers 2. Evans and Gallego were both waived without making a league appearance for the Timbers. Regardless of their contributions to the team, all three were not products of the Timbers' academy: Richards and Evans were both grandfathered into the homegrown program by MLS after having come up through Eastside United FC, Gavin Wilkinson's USL-era youth team, while Gallego had his homegrown rights acquired from the New York Red Bulls.

Still, there are some interesting prospects for the Timbers on the homegrown front. Notably, Stanford junior striker Foster Langsdorf is a product of the Timbers' academy system. Langsdorf started in the College Cup Final alongside USMNT striker Jordan Morris, playing 69 minutes and registering an assist in the Cardinal's 4-0 win over Clemson. Langsdorf also scored the game-winner in Stanford's 2-1 semi-final win over Akron to send them through.

The Timbers' press release:

Former Chicago Fire Academy Director to oversee development of Timbers Academy players, program 

PORTLAND, Ore. – The Portland Timbers today announced the appointment of Larry Sunderland as Timbers Youth Technical Director. Per league and club policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed. Sunderland joins the Timbers from the Chicago Fire, where he served since 2007 as academy director of player development and academy director.

Sunderland, 51, will take the lead in helping develop curriculum guidelines, monitoring Timbers Academy player and staff development, coaching and oversight of all soccer-specific aspects of the Timbers Academy and player development system.

"The Timbers Academy has to be a focal point of the club and the expectation is to develop homegrown players that can help the first team," said Gavin Wilkinson, general manager of the Timbers. "Our club is putting a lot of emphasis on the academy and making the necessary investments to continue its growth. Hiring a quality coach with a proven track record of success like Larry to work alongside academy sporting director Mike Smith to run the academy and youth programs is exciting and shows our level of commitment to the youth players within our homegrown territories."

With the Fire, Sunderland also served as Technical Director of the Chicago Fire PDL side, Super-20s and Fire Juniors youth club, since 2009. Under his direction, the Fire Academy won U.S. Soccer Development Academy championships at the U-16 level (2010) and the U-18 level (2015). During his tenure, five former Fire Academy players signed with the first team as Homegrown players (Victor Pineda, Harrison Shipp, Chris Ritter, Collin Fernandez and Patrick Doody). Sunderland also helped oversee two U-20 North American Championships (2008, 2012) and a USL PDL-record 11 players chosen in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft.

"The Portland Timbers have an unparalleled passion for excellence on and off the field and I look forward to bringing my passion for player development to the Timbers Academy and becoming a part of this championship organization," Sunderland said. "The opportunity to work with quality people in a high performance environment is rare. Couple that with an incredible soccer environment in Portland and you have a winning mix that I am very excited to be a part of."

Sunderland holds a USSF "A" License, USSF National "Youth" License, NSCAA Advanced National Diploma, the KNVB "Youth" Certificate and successfully completed the FFF’s Elite Formation Coaches License (equivalent to UEFA "Pro" License). He joined the USSF National Instructional Staff in 2000 and the NSCAA Associate National Staff in 2002. At the collegiate level, his coaching resume includes head coaching positions at Wisconsin Lutheran College (1994-97) and Kendall College, as well as serving as a men’s soccer assistant coach at Long Island University/CW Post College.

Sunderland’s professional playing career began in 1985 with the New York Express of the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL). In 1986, he moved to the Milwaukee Wave of the National Professional Soccer League (NPSL). With the Chicago Power (NPSL) in 1990-91, he was part of the Power’s championship team before briefly returning to Milwaukee in 1993. Sunderland ended his playing career in 1996.

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