T2 training, 3.16.17
Photo by Marc Kostic

As USL season approaches, T2 relies on youth to spark campaign

Late last September, the players and coaching staff of T2 made an end-of-season run of seven wins in their final 10 matches to threaten a spot in the playoffs, only to narrowly miss out due to goal differential in the USL Western Conference. That T2 was in the playoff hunt at all was a remarkable feat for a team that months earlier had sat near the bottom of the table.

Come this weekend, a new season dawns and head coach Andrew Gregor's side will look to build on that positive run of late-season form as it kicks off the 2017 USL regular season against Real Monarchs SLC this Saturday, March 25, at Providence Park (7:30 p.m. PT, TICKETS).

While the roster has changed since last fall, several players still remain from that remarkable run.

Returning to the team for 2017 are USL All-League First Team midfielder Villyan Bijev–who led the league in assists in 2016 with 10 on the way to earning USL All-League First-Team honors–goalkeeper Wade Hamilton, midfielders Neco Brett, Dylan Damraoui, and Andre Lewis, and forward Augustine Williams, who joined the team midway through the 2016 campaign.

Gone from the team, however, are four T2 players who signed contracts with the first team this offseason. That group includes Homegrown Player signing Marco Farfan and a trio of 2016 T2 contributors: goalkeeper Kendall McIntosh, defender Rennico Clarke, and midfielder/forward Victor Arboleda.

Their ascent to the first team suggests the growth and evolution of T2 as an important developmental pathway and a growing tendency to bring ever-younger players into the T2 developmental process.

This year's roster, for example, has an average age of just 20.88. That's down from 22 years of age last season and 24 years of age in 2015, T2's first season in USL.

“The objective of T2 is to bring in players young enough so that we can affect their development pathway for the first team,” said Timbers general manager and president of soccer Gavin Wilkinson. “Getting players in at 18, 19 years of age gives us a longer runway in which to work with players, develop players, to see if they fit the culture of this club and if they’re good enough for the next level.”

Of note in the team’s youth cadre include goalkeeper Christian Herrera, 19, who has represented youth national teams for both the U.S. and Mexico, Costa Rican defender Shaquille Jimenez, 20, who is a product of the Saprissa system, defender Harold Hanson, 17, who’s been a staple of the U.S. U-16, U-16 and U-18 teams and ex-UC Santa Barbara defender Lamar Batista, 19, who earned 2016 Big West All-Freshman honors.

“If we can spend two to three years with a player starting at 18 years of age, we have a good database of games and training sessions to see if they’re ready for that next step,” said Wilkinson.

Six players on T2's current roster are 19 years of age or younger and, at just 24 years-old, midfielders Bijev and Brett have become the oldest and most experienced player on this team. 

Some may consider this team's relative youth and inexperience a liability. But skeptics should also remember that head coach Andrew Gregor led a young squad to the brink of a playoff berth with a formidable string of impressive results over the last two months of the 2016 season, including five wins in the team's final five games.

Come Saturday against Real Monarchs, the quest for a successful season as well as a platform to further develop future players for the Timbers’ MLS side begins once again.