PORTLAND, Ore. – After over seven seasons as head coach of the Portland Timbers U-23s, Jim Rilatt coached his final match at Providence Park Tuesday, a 3-3 thriller with Lane United FC. The team’s first-ever coach is leaving Portland to accept a new position.
But in some form or another, Rilatt has been a part of Portland soccer history since the Timbers were first founded in 1975. Back in those days, the young Rilatt would run around on the old Civic Stadium field as his father, a groundskeeper, got to work.
“I've wanted to be a part of the Timbers since they started,” Rilatt said on Tuesday after coaching his final match. “The Portland Timbers are what I considered home.”
Rilatt remembers the first time he stepped out onto the field alongside then-head coach Gavin Wilkinson as an assistant during the 2007 USL season. He remembers celebrating the PDL championship with his U-23s in 2010 as they dominated the field with a perfect regular-season record, a feat unduplicated in PDL history. He remembers being on the field when the Timbers played their opening MLS regular-season game in 2011.
Since first taking over the U-23s in 2009, Rilatt has seen it all. He's seen some of his former players – names like Fatai Alashe, Eric Miller, Erik Hurtado and Timbers goalkeeper Jake Gleeson – go on to professional success. He's seen many of his former charges go on to successful careers in other fields.
In his time with of the U-23s, Rilatt coached the team to a 61-23-23 record and led it to the PDL playoffs in five of his seven complete seasons. He also coached the U-23s to four U.S. Open Cup appearances in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016.
When he was handed the job in 2009, Rilatt was tasked with a specific goal: mold a group of young collegiate athletes into players capable of representing themselves as young professionals while learning how to mimic the playing style and culture of the Timbers first team.
“These players, it was an opportunity to see how they would do and the things that we do here as Portland Timbers: our style of play, our work rate, our culture – especially the culture that Caleb Porter has put together,” Rilatt said. “We're really proud of what they've become off the field.”
He may be most proud of the tremendous accomplishment of the 2010 U-23s team, which finished that season with a perfect record – 16-0-0 – en route to the 2010 PDL championship.
“I think what was special about that group was that as a group they bonded well together,” Rilatt recalled. “There were guys that were really supportive of one another whether they played a game, sat on the bench the entire time, or played 10 minutes. They were always ready to help.”
“It was nice to have that happen prior to going into MLS,” he added. “Hopefully we gave everyone a little bit of a jazz, helped the organization get a little bit more fire, not that they needed anything.”
Rilatt's legacy is there in the record of those U-23 teams and in the players he mentored through the years. Rilatt, though, is modest about his own contributions; he wanted only to do right by the people and the organization that first trusted him with the charge of the team back in 2009 and which has been so much a part of his life since those days roaming old Civic Stadium in the 1970s.
“I just wanted to make sure I contributed,” he said. “I wanted to make sure I showed the respect due to Caleb and the staff and I wanted to make sure that I did my job so that Merritt Paulson and Gavin Wilkinson would find value in the investment in these young kids that they had made.”