With the start of the USL First Division mere months away, the Timbers and head coach Gavin Wilkinson were hard at work examining available talent at the 2007 invitation tryout on January 20 and 21 at PGE Park. Nearly 70 players, hailing from local cities and far away countries with different backgrounds put their skills to work hoping to fulfill their dreams of playing professional soccer.
“I’ve been with the club since its inception, and I think this is the best trial we’ve ever had,” said Wilkinson, who also doubles as the organization’s general manager. “We’ve seen some good players - players I’d like to see put on a Timbers’ jersey; we’ll see how things work out.”
From Major League Soccer prospects to elite amateur players, each person had his own story on how he made it to the Timbers’ tryout. Many players traveled across the country to attend the combine, including two USL Premier Development League (PDL) players Lawrence Olum and Brandon Moncrief - who originally met Wilkinson at the USL Players Showcase in December.
“Coach is a very classy guy with high expectations,” said Moncrief, who played collegiate soccer for Mt. St. Mary’s University in Maryland. “I look forward to an opportunity to play under him. I am a hard worker and I think I can bring a presence and leadership to the backline.
I think it would be a great opportunity to be a part of the Timbers organization.”
A native of Kenya, Olum first arrived in the United States to attend Missouri Baptist University in St. Louis, Mo. Voted to the PDL Team of the Week in Week 8 of the 2006 season, Olum helped the St. Louis Lions finish their inaugural season 7-3-6 by scoring a team-high nine goals.
“I hadn’t even thought about the possibility of playing professional soccer,” said Olum. “Soccer has allowed me to get a good education here in the U.S., but I never thought it would bring me this far. This is just a phenomenal opportunity.”
With players from Kenya, Jamaica and across the country, the Timbers annual trial was also another opportunity to evaluate and display local talent as the weekend featured several players from Oregon colleges and universities, including two standouts from Pacific University in Forest Grove.
“Coach has a hard job ahead to fill roster spots,” said Pacific striker Matt McDonough, the Northwest Conference (NWC) Player of the Year. “There is certainly talent on the field.”
That talent included teammate and NWC All-Conference goalkeeper Jory Shene. McDonough and Shene led Pacific University to a fifth place-finish in the NWC, its best placing since 1999. McDonough finished his senior season with a career-high 12 goals and 27 points. Shene, from Molalla, Ore., played last summer with the PDL’s Cascade Surge and is ready for the next level.
“I’ve trained with the Timbers on several occasions over the last few years,” said Shene. “I’ve wanted to play professionally for a long time, and now I hopefully get that chance. Being local, I’d love the opportunity to play here; I love Portland and the fans are incredible.”
“Coach (Wilkinson) has some high expectations for his players and the upcoming season, and we hope can give him what he wants and needs,” added McDonough.
Current Timbers midfielder Troy Ready was discovered at an invite tryout last season. In 2006 Ready made 11 appearances, scoring one goal and was a USL First Division Team of the Week selection in Week 3.
The two-day trial highlighted players’ play-making abilities in 45 minutes scrimmages and other drills run by Timbers coaches.
“It’s a big commitment from these players to travel in from all over,” said Wilkinson. “I appreciate and respect the desire these players have to play at the next level.”
The Timbers squad begins its preparation for the 2007 season in March when training camps opens. Regular season matches begin in late April. For more information on the 2007 season and roster, visit www.portlandtimbers.com.