Timbers in Tucson: Rookies Tucker-Gangnes & Evans quickly learning the ropes
New teammates. New coach. New surroundings. This is the environment for a number of the newest Portland Timbers players in Tucson as the preseason progresses, but for newly-signed defender Dylan Tucker-Gangnes and Homegrown Player Steven Evans, there’s a whole other element of new: learning how to make the jump to Major League Soccer.
Tucker-Gangnes, a 2013 SuperDraft second round pick out of the University of Washington and Evans, a Portland-native midfielder who signed after starring for the University of Portland, come to the club with long and accomplished collegiate careers.
In both players’ cases, they were used to being key elements of their respective college squads. Tucker-Gangnes was a four-year letterman at Washington, captain, and scored eight goals as a centerback during his 2012 Huskies campaign. Evans was featured in a UP marketing campaign this past season and lit up the West Coast Conference with 14 goals in 19 games—good for second in the conference. They were go-to players in their teams’ starting XI’s.
The skill level for MLS, however, picks up considerably, “It’s a big transition coming into play with these types of players who are all amazing players,” said Evans. The duo have jumped into their first preseason eager to learn the ropes. The common language of soccer provides a starting point.
“Once you step on the field, people go back into what’s comfortable and whatever their normal role on the field is,” believes Tucker-Gangnes. “I’m just trying to navigate my way through the locker room. Make sure I’m not getting in anyone’s way and ultimately help out and do my part as a rookie.”
Along with working hard, patience becomes an essential skill. Tucker-Gangnes knows the opportunity of getting to play is not something that is granted right away.
“In college, you were afforded those luxuries because you put your time in as a freshman and as a sophomore and then by the time you become a senior, you’re granted those privileges,” he said. “That’s the same thing here. As a rookie, you need to keep your head down and do the work that’s asked of you and then more—make sure that’s always in the front of your mind.”
Evans agrees and also points out that being a young player allows you to watch and learn from the other veteran players around you. It has helped him in improving his overall game.
“I’m kind of taking a step back and saying, ‘Hey, what to I have to do to get to that spot that I was at in college as a starter?’” he said.
Both players are not entire strangers to Portland. Evans played on the Timbers U-23s for four years, winning a PDL national championship with fellow Homegrown Player Brent Richards and goalkeeper Jake Gleeson in 2010. Tucker-Gangnes joined Evans as a member of the 2011 U-23s squad.
“The Timbers U-23s gave me the experience of being a Timber and what it would mean to play for the Timbers first team,” said Tucker-Gangnes. “It was always a dream of mine to play for the Timbers and to be able to get into the first team locker room by coming up through the system.”
Though he grew up in the Seattle Sounders’ backyard of Bainbridge Island in the Puget Sound, Tucker-Gangnes had a desire to get out of his comfort zone and try something new. The Rose City became a prime destination for his Timbers U-23s time and now eventual MLS side.
“I wanted to get out of Seattle,” he said. “I had been there a lot. I grew up there and went to school there. I wanted to go to Portland, I had heard great things about it. It was a perfect match.”
In Evans' case, he grew up in Portland and played in the Eastside United—now Eastside Timbers—youth program, “The passion here for the Portland Timbers has been with me since they were USL and I was watching them since I was young. I’ve always wanted to play here.”
And while much is new for the pair in starting their MLS careers, there’s also a great deal that is familiar. Tucker-Gangnes played with Richards at Washington and Evans was a UP starter alongside current Timbers defender Ryan Kawulok. Those relationships provided a base from which to build on not only on the field, but off.
“It’s always nice to walk into a locker room on Day One and see a familiar face,” said Tucker-Gangnes. “That was another positive on top of many in being drafted to Portland.”
Though first team minutes may be difficult to come by in their first season, both players are busy working hard in these early Arizona preseason sessions.
“The level of training has been fantastic,” said Tucker-Gangnes. “All the guys are really dialed in. It looks like a very promising start to the preseason."
“We all hope that we get some time,” added Evans though he knows for now, he must continue his hard work and stay prepared for his moment. “I hope to get some minutes some time but I’m happy just to be here.”