By CHARLIE CORR – firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, March 14, 2016
The Portland Timbers 2 underwent a coaching change with Andrew Gregor heading the club, and the move appears to be a seamless transition because of his assisting role last year and involvement with Portland’s Academy. With an MLS Championship squad underway with its defense, a number of players are waiting in the wings. T2 will be the beneficiary of fielding those on the fringe, and in turn, the USL side hopes to add a few more first-team players down the road. Portland’s first USL season came up short of the USL Playoffs by a couple positions in the Western Conference, but the team played a brand of entertaining and aggressive soccer that could lend itself to a successful run this year in Season 2.
Head Coach: Andrew Gregor
Stadiums: Merlo Field and Providence Park
2015 results: 11-15-2 record; 8th in Western Conference
2015 postseason: Did not qualify for USL Playoffs
(Note: Updated on March 18)
Goalkeeper: Last season, Jake Gleeson manned the net for more than 70 percent of the season. This year, T2’s roster includes Gleeson’s backup Justin Luthy, who earned a shutout and two victories in five matches in 2015. Luthy has worked his way up from the PDL’s Portland Timbers U23s two years ago. New to T2’s goalkeeping corps is Kendall McIntosh, who has featured regularly for U.S. youth national teams as the starting goalkeeper at the 2011 FIFA U-17 World Cup and rostered at the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup.
Defense: More defenders will be announced down the road. In the meantime, one face on this group is Trevor Morley, who was selected in the fourth round of the 2016 MLS SuperDraft. The center back starred at Cal State Northridge, where he was twice named to the All-Big West First Team. Former Sounders U23 defender/midfielder Michael Gallagher, a University of Washington product also joins the club.
Midfield: T2’s midfield has changed extensively, with the exception of New Zealander Tim Payne who appeared in 22 games last season. Returnees Seth Casiple saw some time during the inaugural campaign, but by a much smaller scale – Casiple with a goal in 10 appearances and Lowe with six minutes off the bench. Among some of the new faces are Belgian youth international Dylan Damraoui and Akinjide Idowu, who was T2’s first offseason signing back in mid-January.
Forward: With so many new faces on board, T2 will have the luxury of their top goal scorer returning. Kharlton Belmar had the best individual season for Portland last season, scoring 12 goals and assisting three others on his way to USL Rookie of the Year accolades. Brent Richards notched a goal and two assists in a mostly reserve role for T2 last season and could see a heightened role this year. Portland targeted Alexis Meva during the offseason. The 18-year-old Cameroonian forward spent some time with FC Barcelona’s youth system. Dual citizen Villyan Bijev, who was born in Bulgaria and moved to California, looks forward to his first season with T2.
Strengths: Belmar is without question the go-to player on this young squad. His speed and goal-scoring panache were representative of T2’s play overall, only he was at a higher level than many of his teammates. It remains to be seen what his potential MLS future holds, but for the time being, Belmar is a tremendous asset in the USL as he and the club shoot for the upper tier of the West standings and beyond.
Weaknesses: Last season, Belmar eluded to how his aggressive play on opposing teams’ defenses also left T2 vulnerable to a counterattack or poor positioning in general. Now that Portland has gone through the rigors of a full USL season, there should be optimism for improvement in this area. Nevertheless, with a young pool of players eager to make a step to MLS down the road, T2 still could be susceptible defensively. Between the team’s new back line and goalkeeping bunch, it is conceivable that there will be a heavy learning phase to gel.
Key number: 2 – The Timbers 2 tied for the league’s lowest total of draws last season alongside Arizona United SC. Both 1-1 ties were against Real Monarchs SLC in the opening two months of the campaign.
Noteworthy matchups: The Cascadia rivalries filtered to the USL level last year and are calendar-circling material every time out. Portland opens the season series against Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 on April 2 at Merlo Field for T2’s home opener. Two of T2’s three games at Providence Park include Cascadia opponents – WFC2 on May 20, followed by Seattle Sounders FC 2 on May 26.
Coach’s view: “It’s been a pretty smooth transition so far. Obviously I’m very familiar with the academy that I worked in for a while and by working with T2 last year as an assistant at the professional game. I played for a long time, so I’m very aware of the professional environment, and so the transition has been pretty good.” – Andrew Gregor
Current roster (updated: March 18, 2016):
Goalkeepers: Justin Luthy, Kendall McIntosh
Defenders: Michael Gallagher, Trevor Morley
Midfielders: Seth Casiple, Dylan Damraoui, Akinjide Idowu, Andre Lewis, Tim Payne
Forwards: Kharlton Belmar, Villyan Bijev, Alexis Meva, Brent Richards