PORTLAND, Ore. – The Portland Timbers became the latest MLS club to build a new USL PRO team today with the announcement that Timbers 2 will take the pitch beginning in 2015. How the team will be built, integrated with its MLS big brother and ultimately develop players are all key elements of what happens next.
We spoke with Portland Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson, who will oversee the Timbers 2 creation on the field along with Timbers head coach Caleb Porter, to hear more about how the squad will be built and how it will help further the development of the club as a whole.
Why have a USL PRO team?
Gavin Wilkinson: “The primary reason is to sign players that have potential to play at the next level and give them the time and the environment to develop that potential.
When you’re starting to put those things together, you want to maximize professionalism. You want the players to develop within our playing philosophy, understand our culture, and the way this organization has progressed from 1975 to now. When they get to the MLS team, they have to understand what it’s like to play for this club. We see the Timbers 2 team as a perfect model to let the players experience the culture and embrace it, as well as develop.
We have to do that while trying to win. The whole objective is: Can we do something that’s special within Oregon and also within this country? We have a first team, we’re going to have a USL PRO team, we have a U-23’s team, and then we have the U-18 and U-16 teams on the Academy side. It’s a very healthy infrastructure.”
How do you balance the goals of developing players with building a winning culture?
GW: “It’s a multipurpose goal. Win a championship while developing players for the MLS team and play the same way as the MLS team: Same system, same philosophy.”
How integrated will it be with the Timbers first team? Sharing staff? Facilities?
GW: “It’ll have its own staff. At the adidas Timbers Training Center, we’re building additional locker rooms and facilities. Timbers 2 will have its own separate soccer staff, head coach, assistant coach, and goalkeeping coach. We're also looking at having an assistant general manager as well.
The soccer side of it is going to operate under [Timbers MLS head coach] Caleb Porter. He’s going to make sure that the playing philosophy is being adhered to and that he’s up to date on all the individual development pathways for every single player. It’s going to be under that from a soccer holistic management standpoint. The general management part of it will be under me, but Caleb will have a lot of input into who we’re hiring and making sure the players play a certain way.
With the morning coaches meetings, I envision that Caleb will be meeting with the Timbers 2 staff —same as he does with the MLS staff — making sure that they’re aware of what the lesson plan is that day, what the objectives are, and what the end results need to be.”
How are you building the roster?
GW: “We’re right at the start of that process. It’s a lot of work. You’re building out a full roster. What we will start to do is go for the best available young talent right now that we can possibly get and build around that with some experience.
The roster development will take shape more in December, January and February rather than now as we will look to sign a couple of players over the next couple of months.
There are variables and unknowns due to roster-size decisions, but it is expected that T2 will see a number of first-team roster players playing on loan on a regular basis to provide solid minutes and help develop skills.”
How do you think having a Timbers 2 team will make the overall club stronger and in what ways?
GW: “For that, you have to understand the first team. We have a positional profile for the first team. So as an example, say a left back has certain characteristics that we see in the Portland Timbers way that we believe a left back has to be able to play. With the Timbers 2 team, it will allow us to replicate that and build a replacement at the USL PRO level with potential and promise to fill that potential or maybe a void in the first team and also to see how they develop.
Timbers 2 gives us a more competitive environment to test players to see how they’re progressing, to see how they’re playing, and to see whether they’re able to take that step. We’re able to build the same team at a second level.
Obviously, there are variables such as cost, wages and competition and all those things, but it enables us to have a backup ready to go in the making and somebody that we can invest time and energy in.”
And instill that same winning culture.
GW: “Yes. Same culture — all the prerequisites of being a Portland Timbers MLS player. It allows us another rung in the ladder to bring players in, to scout players and to test players in a suitable market to see how they’re progressing.”