Thursday, October 29, 2015
Even now, looking back on his first professional season, Kharlton Belmar is still a little awed at the experience.
“There are so many things,” Belmar said recently. “The overall experience in general just taught me a lot about being a professional, and how this whole thing works. The amount of consistency and preparation you have to put in to prepare yourself for games and going out and performing and producing, it’s just so much, and I just got to learn all about that. I can’t speak enough on the experience that I’ve gained this past year. It’s unbelievable.”
For the Portland Timbers 2, it was a good thing the Virginia native was a quick study. For opposing defenses, not so much. After 12 goals in 28 games, including the first goal in T2 history, Belmar was on Thursday named as the 2015 USL Rookie of the Year.
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The first of those 12 might have been the sweetest. In front of a raucous crowd in T2’s inaugural game at Merlo Field against Real Monarchs SLC, a little more than a half-hour in, Schillo Tshuma cut past two defenders on the left and sent a perfect cross into the near post, where Belmar flicked his header into the far post.
“I mean, it was unbelievable,” Belmar said. “Before I stepped on the field I couldn’t imagine that was going to happen. It was just great to be a part of that, and great to notch that down in Timbers history.”
Belmar added a second in that contest, a 3-1 victory, and went on to add 10 more in the remainder of the season as he finished seventh in the USL’s goal-scoring charts. While he had targeted reaching double-digit goals in his first pro season, Belmar was still thrilled when he accomplished the feat.
“Coming into the whole thing, you try and set that goal for yourself, but it’s different in college than coming in for my first year as a pro,” Belmar said. “I really didn’t know what to expect, and it was just kind of hard to see what was actually going to happen, but I couldn’t imagine that. Scoring 12 goals in my first year, I didn’t see that coming, but once it actually happened it was a great feeling.”
A native of Virginia Beach, Va., and with a soccer-loving father, Belmar was immersed in the game from a young age. Whether it was watching D.C. United or the numerous college programs in the area, or watching his favorite player Ronaldinho, soccer was a big part of his life growing up.
Belmar shone at Virginia Commonwealth in his college career, which helped lead to his first trip to the Pacific Northwest last year when he spent the summer between his junior and senior seasons for the Rams with the Portland Timbers U-23s in the PDL.
Belmar had a standout season and earned PDL All-Western Conference honors in the process. The Timbers then called his name at the 2015 MLS SuperDraft and made him one of T2’s first signings as the club prepared for its expansion season. Having the chance to play in a similar system to the Timbers U-23s and VCU eased Belmar’s transition to the pro ranks, and he enjoyed the atmosphere that surrounded T2 Coach Jay Vidovich’s side.
“It was great,” he said. “You could just tell everybody was excited about it, everybody was hungry to just get it started. There was a good atmosphere about the group and it was really great to be a part of that.”
Belmar added the model the Timbers have set up that allows flexibility between teams within the same organization is an exciting thing to be part of.
“I think it’s critical,” Belmar said. “Just this year, we’ve seen how the whole thing is going to work. There’s been times where academy players have come in and trained with us, U-23 players came in and trained with us, and sometimes we go up and train with the first team. It’s all become more and more fluid, and it’s been great. The whole thing is coming together, and it’s just been a great experience.”
After starring at the PDL level last season, and in the USL this year, it certainly might not be too long before Belmar is a permanent fixture at the Timbers’ first-team training sessions.
“I think the whole club has embraced it all, and it’s been wonderful for everyone who’s been a part of it,” Belmar said. “I’m just looking forward to what the future holds and trying to get that shot at the first team.”