As a teen, Timbers rookie goalkeeper Jake Gleeson honed his techniques by volleying a soccer ball against a brick wall in his back yard and catching it to improve his hands, reaction and reflexes.
This was just one piece of valuable information Gleeson imparted on 25-30 budding goalkeepers from Hillside Soccer Club on Oct. 7 at Steve Brand Field on the campus of Chapman Elementary in Northwest Portland as part of the Portland Timbers’ Adopt-a-Club program sponsored by CenturyLink.
The program is an initiative designed to unite Timbers players and coaches with youth soccer programs in the Portland metro area. Participating clubs receive numerous benefits, including a private clinic from a Timbers player, fitness tips from Timbers strength & conditioning coach Karim Derqaoui and a private coaching session with Timbers community ambassador Scot Thompson.
“The earlier you can learn a skill, the more time you have to perfect it,” Gleeson said. “Getting out here and teaching these young kids is important. I feel like some of them have a good starting point, but obviously starting earlier the more time you have to learn it.”
Before the Timbers game against Chivas USA on Aug. 24, the club and CenturyLink held a pre-game ceremony to recognize one player from each of the six participating clubs. Players who exhibited teamwork, communication, positive attitude and skill were chosen by their coaches to represent the club and receive a signed jersey from their player mentor. Though only a handful of youth players were given mention at the game, the clubs collectively serve over 5,000 youth players, 600 of whom are scholarship players.
“We’re a recreationally centered club. Our main objective is to get as many kids as possible playing soccer,” said Dale Montgomery, a coach at Mt. Tabor Soccer Club. “It’s a great lifestyle as well as a sport.”
A number of organizations were selected from a large pool of applicants to be honored. The following clubs were paired with mentors for this year’s Adopt-a-Club program: Hillsboro Futsal (Diego Chara/Jorge Perlaza), Eastside United FC (Kalif Alhassan), Milltown United Soccer Club (Futty Danso), Prairie Soccer Club (Freddie Braun), Hillside Soccer Club and Mount Tabor Soccer Club (Sal Zizzo).
“I think it’s nice that we get support from professional players,” said Isabel Leonard, a player for Mt. Tabor and one of players honored by the Timbers on Aug. 24. “(Sal Zizzo) came to one of our practices and showed us some stuff and it was really cool.”
On Oct. 7, Gleeson visited small groups of players working on different goalkeeping skills and helped use his experience and insight to give the players a sound, fundamental foundation.
“The kids were out there and they’re just kind of in awe of Jake,” said Craig Rusch, a head coach at Hillside Soccer Club. “Whatever he said, that’s kind of like God’s word and they’ve got big smiles on their faces ... it’s just really exciting.
“I think having Jake be here it just got our club really excited. It’s just a momentum builder for us. Everybody in the club wanted to come, we couldn’t do that unfortunately, but it’s just a really exciting thing.”
Gleeson added: “It’s cool. It’s obviously a lot of fun and they’re always really happy to see you and they come out here and give it 100 percent. It’s a lot of fun.”
It was evident that Gleeson’s words were taken to heart by the players.
As parents, coaches and kids vacated the rain-soaked turf, one young player wearing a Timbers jersey adorned with Gleeson’s name and number, grabbed a ball, went to the side of Chapman Elementary and started volleying the ball against the wall and catching it.
David Lieberman contributed to this article.