U-23s Jaime Velasco May 21 2013
Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Timbers

Timbers U-23s Notebook: Jaime Velasco, Clark Phillips helping lead college teams to top of WCC

PORTLAND, Ore.  – Only four weeks into the NCAA season, many Portland Timbers U-23s players are making an impact on their respective college squads. But specifically in the West Coast Conference, Timbers U-23s players have helped guide three schools to tops pots in the conference.

At the University of Portland, forward Jaime Velasco (pictured) is off to a hot start to his sophomore campaign, scoring three goals in his first six games to lead the Pilots to a 4-2-0 start in non-conference play. Velasco notched two goals in a 3-0 win over Oregon State on Sept. 19 at Merlo Field. His performance landed him on the College Soccer News National Team of the Week. He is now tied for the early conference lead in goal as the Pilots lead the WCC in goal scoring.

Forward Clark Phillips has helped Gonzaga get off to a 4-2-0 start to the season, and the Zags recently claim the No. 22 spot on the TopDrawerSoccer.com national rankings for the week of Sept. 22. He tallied a goal in Gonzaga’s 2-0 victory over UC Santa Barbara, featuring Timbers U-23s forward Reed McKenna, on Sept. 6; it was Gonzaga’s first win over a ranked opponent since 2007.

With a cast of Timbers U-23s players, Loyola Marymount University (LMU) has hit the 2013 season running, specifically on defense. Goalkeeper Paul Blanchette has played in four games, recording two shutouts and an 0.28 goals-against average, while defenders Jackson McCracken and Craig Nitti have helped the Lions defense allow just four total goals – second fewest in the conference. Midfielder John McFarlin already leads the WCC with six assists in six games this season, including a three-assist performance in a 4-0 route of Sacramento State on Sept. 20. McFarlin is also the Lions’ leading scorer.

Gonzaga, Portland and LMU all pace the WCC with four wins each. Moving outside the West Coast Conference, other members of the 2013 Timbers U-23s squad are also making great strides.

Three members of the Timbers U-23s have Creighton University off to a solid start in its first season in the BIG EAST. Midfielders Zach Barnes and Jose Ribas and defender Eric Miller helped the Jays to a four-game winning streak to open the season and elevate to a No. 1 national ranking in the NSCAA poll on Sept. 10 – the school’s first No. 1 ranking in 14 years. Through seven games, the team has just one loss – a double overtime setback to William & Mary on Sept. 15 – in part to the Jays’ 0.90 goals-against average. Miller has already twice been named the BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Week this season (Sept. 2 and 23).

Senior forward Mark Sherrod at the University of Memphis was named the American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Week on Monday. He scored the game-winning goal and assisted on the other in a 2-0 win over Cincinnati on Sept. 21. With that three-point performance, Sherrod passes Tigers legend Dayton O'Brien (2002-05, 82 points) and moves into fifth-place in school history with 84 career points.

The University of Akron, led by Timbers U-23s players Saad Abdul-Salaam, Reinaldo Brenes, Bryan Gallego and Victor Souto, is off to a 6-2-0 start through its first matches. Gallego was named the Mid-American Conference Player of the Week in the opening week of the season, helping the Zips to a pair of shut-out victories Aug. 30-Sept. 1, to win the College of Charleston Tournament. Both Gallego and Brenes were named to the all-tournament team.

The No. 10 Zips prevailed in a matchup against San Diego State University on Sept. 15, a game that featured five Timbers U-23s players during the annual University of Akron Tournament. San Diego State and Timbers U-23s goalkeeper Blake Hylen made eight saves against Akron, but the Zips tallied the game-winner in double overtime (105th minute) to secure a 2-1 victory. Gallego, Souto and Hylen were all named to the all-tournament team.

Conference play is now the horizon for many of the Timbers U-23s players in the college ranks.