Coach cites various factors for .500 PDL record this season

by: COURTESY OF PORTLAND TIMBERS - Fatai Alashe, a midfielder from Michigan State, has been one of the players for a .500 Portland Timbers U-23s team that is on the outside looking in at the Premier Development League playoffs with two regular-season games remaining.Portland Timbers U-23s coach Jim Rilatt is very pleased with the way his side has played this year, even if the team’s record does not show the quality he knows the squad has had.

Rilatt points to a missed chance here and a conceded goal there to explain how the Timbers U-23s have a fairly average record of 4-4-4 (16 points), while still playing well.

“We’ve played very, very well,” Rilatt says. “We’ve possessed the ball. We’ve created chances. For us, it’s been unfortunate misses of our chances and unfortunate soft goals we’ve given up. That’s created a lot of ties and an occasional loss. Our record is far better than how we’ve played.”

Rilatt refuses to use the old gambler’s excuse and blame luck.

“It’s not even on luck that you can base (our record),” Rilatt says. “It’s the way the ball is bouncing. In other years, this team could be 12-0 at this point. We have a difficult schedule, we’ve rotated our players a lot, and this is the first year we’ve had use of our developmental academy players.

“All of those things factor into a result, which can be a tie in soccer or a loss.”

The Timbers U-23s currently sit in fifth place out of eight teams in the Premier Development League Northwest Division, with two regular-season matches remaining. The top club in each of the division will move on to the Western Conference regional, while the second- and third-place sides will have a playoff match against each other to determine who moves on to the regional.

The Timbers U-23s are not completely out of the playoff picture. They trail the third-place Victoria Highlanders FC by five points with six points still left on the table. It would take the U-23s getting extremely lucky to find their way into third place at this point, though.

“We’re on the outside looking in,” Rilatt says. “We have six points left. But we need help from other people. We’re still hanging on.”

The next game is 7 p.m. Friday at Lane United FC in Eugene, and then the U-23s will face the Washington Crossfire at Liberty High at 6:30 p.m. Monday.

The Timbers U-23s have been led by Virginia Commonwealth University striker Kharlton Belmar, a 5-11, 160-pounder who has scored eight goals, more than double as many goals as any other player on the club.

“He’s done very, very well,” Rilatt says. “He’s played a lot of minutes and shown himself to be very durable, even though he isn’t someone you would think would play as many minutes as he has.”

University of Portland junior defender Hugo Rhoads, 6-1 and out of West Linn High, has made an impact with four assists.

“He cracked our starting lineup and has himself a few assists and created some chances to score for himself,” Rilatt says. “He’s done really well and has shown himself to be someone we would look at for continuation into next year.”

Oregon State junior midfielder Will Seymore, 5-11 and 170 and from Soham, England, is in his third season with the U-23s and played well this season.

“Last year, he got hurt really early and didn’t participate much,” Rilatt says. “But he’s been solid, very consistent and done a really good job this year.”

This season also marked the first time the Timbers U-23s have had academy players, such as former Century High midfielder Jesse Garcia-Aguilar, 5-6, 145 and now with the Akron Zips, on the roster.

While the academy players have struggled at times, Rilatt is excited that the Timbers U-23s have been able to start building a bridge between themselves and the academy.

“It gives a link between the level of the academy to the collegiate level,” Rilatt says. “Where the academy players have struggled on our team is with the physical side and the power of the opponents we play. But we have a very difficult conference in terms of how physical teams play. It’s a great thing for them to have to challenge themselves.”

While there are many things for Rilatt and the Timbers U-23s to be proud of this season, if the club fails to pull a rabbit out of its hat and make the PDL playoffs, Rilatt will spend the offseason thinking about all the missed chances.

“If we don’t make the playoffs,” Rilatt says, “it will be one of the years where you look at the points we should’ve had.”

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