PORTLAND, Ore. – Ryan Kawulok’s first official day as a member of the Portland Timbers could hardly have been better.
On the very day he was signed by Portland, the 22-year-old defender lived out his dream, hoisting a slab of log in front of the Timbers Army after scoring a goal to force a 1-1 tie Thursday night against Chivas USA in the Portland Tournament at JELD-WEN Field.
The Timbers selected Kawulok, a University of Portland product, in the first round of this year’s Supplemental Draft after he spent two seasons with the club’s U-23 developmental team.
HIGHLIGHTS: Portland 1, Chivas USA 1
“It felt pretty awesome,” Kawulok said, wide-eyed as reporters swarmed him in the locker room after the match. “It was almost a dream come true. To be honest, it’s kind of a blur right now. But when that went in, I was on cloud nine. It was awesome.”
Kawulok’s tally in the preseason match came on the end of a Kalif Alhassan corner kick in the 78th minute with the Timbers trailing 1-0. He was able to position himself on the end of the high, looping cross to tuck it just inside the line with his left foot despite the efforts by San Jose goalkeeper Tim Melia.
“After it went in I was smiling ear to ear,” he said. “There’s not a better feeling than celebrating with the Army. Those guys come out and they give their full 90, singing and chanting all game. If you can make them happy and hold up the slab of wood in front of them, obviously it’s a good feeling.”
Kawulok has impressed the Timbers front office and head coach John Spencer so far this preseason. And with Portland playing its four-team tournament with a limited roster due to national team duties and injuries, Kawulok has received significant minutes in their two games against San Jose on Monday and Chivas.
“I’ve seen the kid, he used to come in and train with us quite regular last season and always, always impressed me,” Spencer said. “That’s why we signed him. We think he’s a good player. Is he ready to play with the first team right now? No. But eventually he’ll be ready to play.”
Kawulok credited Portland’s U-23 program for his poise in the raucous atmosphere during the two games. The Timbers drew 15,195 fans on Thursday and more than 16,000 on Monday.
“The U-23 program does an amazing job of teaching the system of what is expected here,” he said. “Day in and day out with the U-23s, I knew what to expect in practice, I knew what to expect in games. They’ve done a great job allowing me to be prepared, and I think the transition into the professional game has been pretty seamless so far.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Dan_Itel.