Soccer Nerds Rejoice! The best team you’ve never heard of is about to return!
Portland Timbers U23 — 2010 PDL Champions with a perfect 20-0-0 record — will begin their title defense 1pm this Saturday, May 7, at JELD-WEN Field vs Victoria Highlanders. The whole bowl is general admission, tickets are five bucks.
The Timbers yesterday announced the U23 roster, and oh what a roster it be. Joining a large group of returning stalwarts (including ONE BRENT RICHARDS) will be two names familiar to fans of the Big Timbers: Ross “Who wears short-shorts? Ross wears short-shorts!” Smith and some guy named Scot Thompson. Scot is one of the Timbers’ Community Ambassadors. You might also remember him as the one who stole your heart with such hits as “sacrificing his face and going home in a Miami
ambulance station wagon” and “writing poetry about the supporters“. He’s kind of a legend.
Some thoughts on the roster, schedule, etc.:
- Brent Richards was a man among boys last year, scoring approximately a million goals including one bicycle kick in Tigard, Oregon that was the most beautiful thing I’ll ever hope to see, en route to winning the 2010 PDL MVP and the hearts of literally tens of adoring fans. Brent is the real deal, and going into his senior year at You Dub (he turns 21 this month) he’s someone I would love to see make it onto the Big Timbers – even if it’s just a pit stop before he heads overseas.
- Richards leads a great group of players returning from last year’s championship squad: Ricky Abrego, Bim Ogunyemi, Steven Evans, Ryan Kawulok, Roberto Farfan and Tracy Hasson, the dynamic 5’4″ winger who flew into the sky and scored with his head in the title match against Thunder Bay. Joining them are some players I’ve never heard of before today, but who I’m told are top notch. One to watch is Camas HS product and USA U-17 star Nick Palodichuk. Oh and I’m sure I already mentioned it but your BFF Scot will also be on the team.
- Kiwi keeper Jake Gleeson and former Louisville Cardinal Freddie Braun won’t feature for the U23s this year, because they play for the Big Timbers now. This is a youth system bearing fruit, folks, and it’s only going to get better with the advent of the Timbers new OYSA-partnered academy, atop which the U23s will now sit. Other former U23s making their careers professionally include Collen Warner (Real Salt Lake), Graham Dugoni (Charleston Battery), Logan Emory (Puerto Rico Islanders) and Best Name Ever candidate Sterling Flunder (Pittsburgh Riverhounds).
- Saturday’s game is one of only three this season that the PDL side will play at JWF, with the remaining five home games taking place at regional high schools, continuing a fantastic tradition of spreading the Timbers Love around the metro area. When the Big Timbers aren’t playing and you need a fix, you can do a lot worse than a Saturday night with the U23s in Sherwood, for example. The locale I’m most looking forward to this year is Kiggins Bowl in Vancouver (Sat June 18); I’ve missed the U23 match there the previous two years, and it looks like a great spot.
- The PDL Northwest Division has undergone some shakeup during the offseason (not a surprise considering this is the 4th division of American soccer we’re talking about here). Longtime NW standby Yakima Reds (who featured former Timber Jake Sagare for the past three years) folded, as did the cannon fodder Spokane Spiders. Nine teams minus two equals seven, plus one equals eight in the form of new squad North Sound SeaWolves FC, who will play in Everett. For whatever reason, the PDL has decided to keep the schedule at 16 games, meaning we’ll play an unbalanced schedule (we host Tacoma Tide twice, and travel to Seattle twice to play the Washington Crossfire).
- If you’re bummed about the Timbers crashing out of US Open Cup qualifying, fret not because the U23 can still qualify for the tournament. After their opening match against Victoria, the next four league matches will serve double duty as USOC qualifiers. Timbers will play two on the road (Crossfire, Kitsap), then two at home (SeaWolves, Tide).
- One of my only negatives is that game in Kitsap, which is being played simultaneously with the senior Timbers match vs Columbus at Jeld-Wen (Sat May 21). Kitsap Away has become a bit of a tradition recently (last year’s NW Division final four weekend in Bremerton was a blast) and it’ll be a bummer to miss it this year.
- Beyond the tough early season test to qualify for USOC, the U23s will end the season with three games on the road, including two in less than 24 hours in Victoria and then Seattle. C’est la sched. Again, road mettle will go a long way toward delivering another division title to Portland this year.
- Today it was announced that the New York Cosmos will unveil a U23 team, which will play an exhibition schedule this year and become a full PDL member beginning in 2012. I don’t expect this will affect the Timbers U23 in any way this season (Cosmos 2011 schedule isn’t released yet but I doubt they make it out here for a match), but it is something to keep your eye on. The PDL is already a strong league, and high profile entries like NY Cosmos can be a big boon if handled properly.
Qualifying from the PDL is no mean feat. With five American teams in the division, it’s a true round-robin, and the best team after four games qualifies for the USOC. Last year the Kitsap Pumas edged the U23s on goal differential, so even a team that would go on to post a perfect record and a national title couldn’t make it far enough to lose to the MIGHTY PTFC (which Kitsap eventually did for the second year running). If the U23s can get maximum points in those first two road games — and particularly any kind of result in Kitsap — they’ll have a shot at qualifying this year.
Come on out and support the kiddos, they’re a real treat. Tickets will be cheap, but unfortunately there won’t be a season ticket available as there has in years past. Tickets for the games at JWF are $5, and the high school venues will set admission pricing for those games, and I expect they’ll all be $5 too (I’ve been assured they won’t be more than $10 but nothing is set).