Jim Rilatt, preseason training, 1.23.13
Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer

Timbers U-23s Q&A: Jim Rilatt

As Timbers U-23s head coach Jim Rilatt looks towards the beginning of the 2013 Premier Development League season, the team held their second of two tryouts this past weekend. Rilatt talked to PortlandTimbers.com about entering his fifth season at the helm, the joys of coaching the U-23s side and helping develop players for the next level in a special preseason Q&A.

You are now entering your fifth season coaching the U-23s. What is it like coaching a team in which the roster can change significantly from year to year? Are there any difficulties building consistency and chemistry among the group of players you have from year to year?
Jim Rilatt: It is difficult, until you get to know them. Coming in each year, you know some of the returning players. With the PDL schedule, you get to know your players mainly through the games, so that is the difficult part. Every game the pressure is to win. We’ve been fortunate to find some success, while we figure out where they all best fit together.

This year will be no different. With Timbers head coach Caleb Porter coming on board, many doors have opened up to different schools to bring in a lot of talent. It’s exciting, but then on the other hand, hard to be able to get what you think is your strongest team on the field very early (in the season).

What do you enjoy most about working with the U-23s side?
JR: The most enjoyable part about it is having the opportunity to look closely at players that our organization might have an interest in and getting to find out about them as players and the character that they have. We have gotten lucky because we have attracted a lot of players with high character, but that isn’t always the case. We have had a lot of our alumni end up in situations with MLS, USL, and abroad. For me, it’s always just a good feeling to do that, that’s my job with the organization and I thrive in that job. If I get one more into the Timbers (first team) roster, then I’m pretty excited.

READ: Former Timbers U-23s Dylan Tucker-Gangnes & Steven Evans learning the ropes as Timbers rookies

You only get to work with the U-23s players for a few months each season. What are the biggest challenges in working with them for a relatively short period of time?
JR: We have a very generous owner in Merritt Paulson, who has supported us, and a general manager in Gavin (Wilkinson), whom it was really his idea to have a PDL team, before it was cool to have PDL. So results matter, while trying to make sure that the experience for these players is productive.

How does it feel to see recent Timber U-23s alumni, like Emery Welshman and Erik Hurtado, grow into first-round MLS SuperDraft picks?
JR: I’m really excited. With Erik being a local kid, I got to see him play as a youth and I really looked forward to the opportunity to work with him. He contacted me when he got drafted expressing his appreciation for the organization. It’s great. I’m pretty blessed. My part is to coach them and find out about them, but a lot of credit starts with Gavin and Merritt supporting the program. Also Caleb from day one has been really helpful, talking about players and attracting players. He has great insight.

After making it back to the playoffs last season, what are your goals for this upcoming season? How do you build upon last year’s results?
JR: We had some disappointment in the U.S. Open Cup last year. We played well but it was early so we didn’t know ourselves. I would like to get into the (second) round this year. I think that rewards the organization and ownership for its support and generosity to the program, and I think it would be great for the players to have that opportunity.

We always set in sight to win the division. We also did not beat Seattle once last year. Hopefully we rectify that this year and to see that we go further in the playoffs than we did a year ago. I think we have a very good group of players coming in, but we are deep enough this year to not wear them out.