Q&A: Timbers U-23s head coach Jim Rilatt
The defending-Premier Development League champion Portland Timbers U-23s took to the field for the first time in 2011 on Tuesday as they opened preseason camp. Head coach Jim Rilatt, the reigning PDL Coach of the Year, reflects back on the 2010 title season, his players moving on to the pro ranks and discusses his goals for the 2011 campaign.
With a long offseason now behind you, have you had a chance to really put into perspective what the Timbers U-23s accomplished last season?
Jim Rilatt: This team achieved so much with the leadership of many players; they truly deserved all they got. It wasn’t until we left the locker room at halftime of the finals that I allowed myself to think about winning the championship. I thought then, “These boys will never let the crowd at home down.” It was not until then I even let it cross my mind.
During the regular season, I didn’t really think much about contending for the championship. We were such a young team, I was really focused on making certain we took care of the players and got them prepared for the eyes of the first team.
Two players from the 2010 team – Jake Gleeson and Freddie Braun – have gone on to sign with the Timbers’ first team, which now competes in Major League Soccer. What’s it like to see these kids you’ve worked with move on to professional careers?
JR: This is one of the proudest moments in my coaching career. Both boys were fantastic leaders and members of our team. The success of the team had a lot to do with the play of both Jake and Freddie. I also felt a great sense of accomplishment from this.
Gavin (Wilkinson) went out on a limb to get our ownership to agree to fund this team with the idea that we would be able to produce players for the first team. These two are a result of that vision. I am grateful to both Gavin and our owner Merritt Paulson for the chance and I hope they feel the investment has been worthwhile.
Having won the PDL championship and the first team now playing in MLS, have you noticed an increase in recognition and interest in the Timbers U-23s?
JR: We have had interest from players all over the country now wanting to play for the Timbers U-23s. Many college players would love to come to play in Portland, but probably the biggest difference I see this year is the number of overage players interested in playing for Portland.
The upcoming season will be your third year as the head coach of the Timbers U-23s and fifth season involved with the club. What do you enjoy most about working with the U-23 group?
JR: I enjoy working with players that are young and want to learn. The players we have had over the past two seasons have brought everything they could to our organization. They have learned to check their personal ego and represent the Timbers with pride and professionalism. The PDL schedule is very difficult and our players have gone about it in a professional manner.
You went undefeated last year on your way to the championship. While there will be some returning players, how do you approach the season in regards to instilling that same winning mentality that has seen the team reach the playoffs in each of its first two seasons in the PDL?
JR: We’ve modeled the mentality of the first team both seasons and it will be the same in 2011. We look to out-work our opponent and compete for 90 minutes. Timbers head coach John Spencer demands the first-team players to believe they are here to win every game, no days off. The Timbers U-23s will attempt to mimic the same philosophy in all of our games as well as every day in training.
As this team’s head coach, you’ve reached the playoffs in consecutive seasons and have won a PDL title in the first two seasons. With that, what are your goals for the Timbers U-23s in 2011? What are you looking forward to the most this season?
JR: I am really looking forward to working with the returning players to see how they blend with the talents and attitudes of the new faces. If the returning players set the standard they lived by last year, we will have a chance to be successful again this year.
As a team, it will always be our goal to play entertaining soccer, score goals and keep clean sheets. If we can do this we will put ourselves in a position to win all of our games and hopefully our experience will help us get results.