U23 Celebration, 7.14.17
Kendrick Arakaki

Timbers U23 ride regular-season success into PDL Playoffs

With their 3-0 shutout of Lane United on Sunday night, the Portland Timbers U23s capped off their first Premier Development League season in Salem by clinching first place in the league's Northwest Division.

Heading into Sunday's match, the Timbers U23s (8-2-4) sat two points back of division-leading Calgary Foothills FC. However, with Calgary's draw against Victoria earlier that day, the Timbers U23s were given a chance to control the fate of their season in their final match. The club dominated their opponent by scoring off the foot of three separate players while keeping a clean sheet against Lane United. The win netted the Timbers U23 three points as well as the title of Northwest Division Champions. 

Founded in 2008 by the then-USL, now-MLS Portland Timbers, the club moved to Salem prior to the 2017 season to be run by Adidas Timbers Alliance Club Capitol FC Timbers. While Capitol FC took over day-to-day operations, the MLS team continued to provide resources and assist with player recruitment and selection.

It’s been a partnership that has thrived in the team’s new surroundings.

“The team and the city created a special relationship in short order,” said Timbers U23 head coach Aaron Lewis. “It is was obvious early on that the team and the city were going to positively impact each other. The city has shown its appreciation for the quality of soccer that the U-23s bring to our area, and the team has been overwhelmed by the support we've been given here.”

For the short amount of time the Timbers U23s have spent in Salem, Lewis has been especially proud of all the team has been able to accomplish thus far.

“This has been a very enjoyable season for me personally,” he said. “Our team is made up of talented young players who have committed to a team-centered approach. The Timbers organization, the U23s staff, and the Capital Timbers have been committed to doing this right all summer, and when you have all of those pieces in place, it’s difficult not to have a positive experience.”

Especially positive as of late have been the Timbers U23s’ on-field results. Prior to their recent loss against Calgary, the Timbers U23s had ridden a 10-game unbeaten streak to the best record in the Northwest Division. The loss marked only their second of the season.

As the season has progressed, putting the effort into late-game execution has paid off and culminated in the clinching of a playoff seed.

“The excitement level right now is sky high,” Lewis said. “The players also recognize that the window of time to compete with one another has limits, and they’re determined to extend their run as long as they possibly can.”

The PDL has long served as an important developmental tool for university players looking to retain their collegiate eligibility while also competing at a high level. The Timbers U23s roster includes a bevy of top collegiate talent—many of which come from the Timbers Academy system.

Lewis mentioned that players such as Virginia Commonwealth senior midfielder Francesco Amorosino (eight goals, two assists) and Gonzaga midfielder Christo Michaelson have set the tone for Timbers U23s, and touted that the center back pairing of Wouter Vanstraaten (Univ. of the Pacific) and Zeron Sewel (VCU)l is “the best in the division.” Corban University’s Jordan Farr has also been a bright spot in goal this season. Former Timbers Academy players Niko De Vera (Akron Univ.), Reid Baez (Univ. of Portland), Timur Zhividze (Corban), Edson Martinez (Georgetown), Gio Magana-Rivera (Univ. of Portland), Alex Segovia (Oregon State) and Stefan Wutte (Creighton) all played parts this season as well.

Thanks to their Sunday-night clinch of the division, The Timbers U23s will go on to host their first playoff match against Calgary Foothills FC on Tuesday, July 16 at 7pm at McCulloch Stadium (TICKETS). However, with the playoffs looming, Lewis stresses that it’s important for the team to maintain their identity in order to accomplish their goals.

“Sometimes as the stakes build, younger players tend to try to solve challenges more frequently on their own. If we can stay within our team identity, and keep the strong commitment to defend, we'll be a tough out.”