When the Portland Timbers U-23s open their 2015 PDL season this Thursday at Providence Park (11 AM, TICKETS), they will field a team that could feature as many as seven former Timbers Academy players.
That list of Timbers Academy players includes: Jessie Garcia-Aguilar (University of Akron), Anthony Macchione (University of Akron), Niko De Vera (University of Akron), Ben White (Gonzaga University), Collin Partee (Utah Valley University), Foster Langsdorf (Stanford University), and Sam Werner (Stanford University).
The Timbers U-23s, led by head coach Jim Rilatt, have proven a valuable link between the Timbers developmental arm and the Timbers first team, having sent five players to the Timbers since 2008, including current goalkeeper Jake Gleeson.
This year, the U-23s will once again provide the chance for the Timbers' developing talents to prove themselves game-in and game-out in a professional club environment.
But the U-23s are not just for Academy players.
- READ: Building the Pyramid, Part I
- READ: Building the Pyramid, Part II
- READ: Building the Pyramid, Part III
Founded Nov. 11, 2008, the Portland Timbers U-23s are an amateur team playing in the USL Premier Development League--the fourth tier in American soccer--and serve in the overall club development platform linking the Academy to the USL side T2 and the first team MLS side.
Currently, there are six T2 players who have played for the U-23s, including goalkeepers Gleeson (2010) and Justin Luthy (2014), defender Matt Rose (2014), midfielders Brent Richards (2009-11) and Steven Evans (2009-12), and forward Kharlton Belmar (2014).
The U-23s give the entire Timbers coaching staff the opportunity to scout college players and track the progress of Timbers Academy players.
Belmar (above), while still a student-athlete at Virginia Commonwealth University, scored eight goals in 14 appearances for the PDL team in 2014. The campaign earned himself 2014 Timbers U-23 Player of the Year recognition and a spot on the PDL All-Western Conference list.
Belmar's performances with the U-23s helped put him on the radar of the Timbers coaching staff and resulted in his selection in the second round of the 2015 MLS SuperDraft. Signed to the T2 squad ahead of their inaugural season, he is currently second in the USL with five goals.
Several other former Timbers U-23 players have also gone on to feature prominently in MLS. Erik Hurtado (Vancouver Whitecaps FC), Fatai Alashe (San Jose Earthquakes), Khiry Shelton (New York City FC), and Eric Miller (Montreal Impact) were all high first round picks while Mark Sherrod (San Jose Earthquakes), and Collen Warner (Toronto FC) have become MLS veterans.
Between continued development of Timbers Academy players and ongoing scouting, the 2015 Timbers U-23s season should again prove to be one to watch.