Brent Richards, preseason, 1.24.12
Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer

Timbers to kick off 2012 MLS Reserve League season in San Jose

Somewhere in the MLS archives sits an alumni list that includes San Jose forward Chris Wondolowski – who finished the 2011 MLS season tied for the league lead in goals with 16 – Sporting Kansas City’s 2011 co-leading scorer Kei Kamara, and U.S. international midfielder Stu Holden.

All three are former members of the MLS Reserve League.

The Timbers begin their 10-game Reserve League schedule on the road with an 11 a.m. match Tuesday, March 27 against the San Jose Reserves. The club’s five-game home slate begins on May 27 against the Whitecaps FC Reserves.

Constructed with a dual purpose to keep first-team players fit along with being a developmental league for emerging young talent, the MLS Reserve League provides a competitive league meant to push all players across the board.

“It’s important these guys get matches to stay fit so that when they’re called up as reserves or starters for the first team that they’re ready to go,” said Timbers assistant coach Cameron Knowles. “That’s the first priority. The second priority is the development of our young players. We felt like we got a lot of guys up to speed and had a very good reserve team last year.”

The facts are there to support Knowles’ assertion, too.

Playing in the Reserve League last year, Timbers forward Bright Dike earned valuable games to increase his fitness after recovering from a ruptured Achilles’ tendon. Dike went on to contribute to the Timbers first team as well, scoring his first career MLS goal against Sporting Kansas City on August 17, 2011.

With a stronger roster this season, the competition in the Reserve League is bound to reach a high level.

“We feel like we’ve got a great opportunity to really push our players here,” Knowles said. “We’re expanding our youth academy and we’ll be able to call some [pre-] academy kids to the reserve team, if need be. We’d like, ideally, to work within our roster, with the occasional [pre-]academy kid.”

Players in the Reserve League are all pushing for a spot in either the first team starting XI or for a spot as an available substitute on game day – and that desire makes for some exciting soccer.

“You know that every guy on the reserve team wants that spot on the first team,” Timbers rookie forward and Homegrown player Brent Richards said. “It’s going to have just as much excitement and the players are going to be working just as hard as the first team games. Everybody in those games is going to be trying their best to make their way into the first team.”

Last season while earning a 6-2-2 overall record, the Timbers Reserves averaged 2.4 goals per game and upped that total to 2.6 goals per game at JELD-WEN Field. The team scored three goals or more in five matches, including one five-goal outburst.

“I think they’re exciting games. Certainly, there are goals to be seen,” Knowles said. “If you’re a big supporter of the club, you want to know the guys outside the starting XI and get a sense of them. These are guys that will, over the course of the season, really be contributing and there may be a future star that you can say you’ve seen when they’re on the reserves for the Timbers. We feel like some of our young talent has that potential.”