By Stephanie LaRue in Sports
The Portland Timbers have had their share of ups and downs since joining Major League Soccer in 2011.
After finishing eighth out of nine teams in the Western Conference last season, the Timbers finished first in the conference this year and made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. The Timbers put up a fight in the postseason, but lost to Real Salt Lake by three aggregate goals in the Western Conference finals. Regardless, it was a banner year for professional soccer in Portland.
While the Timbers make headlines on the field, the organization spends a lot of time investing in the community through service and youth soccer development. The effect of these programs is felt in Clark County by nurturing local players like Clark’s Abdiel Morfin.
Morfin, an 18-year-old freshman from Canby, Ore., plays center back for Clark’s men’s soccer team, which had a record of 19-3-1 this season. He started playing when he was 6 years old on the team his uncle coached in McMinnville, Ore.
Morfin tried out for the Timbers under-18 team last year and not only made the starting roster, but was elected team captain.
Being a part of the U-18 team gave Morfin some unforgettable opportunities. The team traveled across the country to play top ranked development academy teams. Morfin even practiced with the Timbers professional team over spring break and was called to play in the season-ending Timbers Reserves match, where the team defeated the Seattle Sounders FC Reserves 3-2.
“I didn’t get to play that game just ‘cause they’re professionals,” Morfin said. “But I got to sit the bench and I was part of the roster, and it was just a really good experience.”
Morfin plans to try out for the Timbers U-23 team next year.
The Portland Timbers Youth Development Information Sheet says MLS requires all teams in the league to have a U-18 and U-16 Boys Academy team, but the Timbers go the extra mile, hosting camps and programs for kids as young as 5 years old. Timbers players also attend these camps.
Timbers Youth Academy manager Erik Lyslo said interest in youth soccer is at an all-time high.
“I think as we progress each year in the youth department and beyond, and people see how well our programs are run, the interest will continue to grow,” Lyslo said. “But our first-team’s success doesn’t hurt the process either.”
Lyslo said the sky is the limit for the Timbers Academy program.
“As we begin to see our pre-academy players who have trained with us from age 11 start to filter into the academy, then you will start to see our academy programs continue to improve on top of how well they are playing already,” he said.
Another way the Timbers organization stands out is through its Stand Together community service program. While MLS gives to charities through its MLS WORKS program, Stand Together helps people in the Portland area. According to the Timbers website, the mission of Stand Together is “to harness the power of sport to improve the lives of children and families in the Portland metro area through targeted programs, deep partnerships and philanthropic giving.” Through Stand Together, the Timbers donated $986,950 to different nonprofits that support education and the environment.
The Timbers also host a dedicated week called Stand Together Week where team members invite anyone to volunteer with them to do projects like cleaning up parks, teaching kids about nutrition and packing food at the Oregon Food Bank.
The Timbers Director of Community Relations, Christa Thoeresz said the team takes pride in its involvement with the community. “Our players combined attend hundreds of community events every year, and often go above and beyond what is asked of them,” she said. For example, Thoeresz said Timbers forward and Camas High School graduate Brent Richards raised more than $3,000 this year for children’s cancer research by dying his hair and then shaving it off.
For more information about Stand Together and the Portland Timbers Youth Development Program, visit http://www.portlandtimbers.com