"It's the best environment I've been in," [Jesse] Garcia-Aguilar said. "They push us every day to become better. They treat everyone here as young pros; that's what I really like about it. They give us a lot of support. And they tell us the truth because we need the truth to become better."
With the Portland Timbers arrival into Major League Soccer came a mandate from the league that the club would need to start a new academy system. During the 2011 season, the Timbers began with an Academy staff that set up regional training centers around the state, administration of the Olympic Development Program, and some pre-academy teams.
Those pre-academy teams gave way to full fledged U-16 and U-18 squads that began play this fall. Most recently the team was in Florida as part of the overall U.S. Development Academy Winter Showcase.
But one element of the new academy that caused some issues upon launch was the requirement from MLS that academy players could no longer participate in their high school teams. But the academy system was built to utilize best practices from the Timbers and MLS to help develop players to the highest level they can be it for college soccer, the Timbers' first team, or even the U.S. national team.
Academy co-director breaks it down thusly:
"They're getting lots of very good practice with and against the best players," Smith said. "We are trying to develop players that ultimately and eventually can play on the first team. But also can we help get all these kids get recruited into top college programs and push them as far as they want to go?"
Dan Itel of the Hillsboro Argus as well as beat writer for MLSsoccer.com, does an in-depth look into the new academy system through the eyes of two of its players, Jesse Garcia-Aguilar and Alejandro Segovia of the Timbers U-16 squad.
Adjustements, new challenges, and a greater sense of development are all at play as the future of Timbers soccer begins in Portland. Give the whole piece a read.