Portland Timbers host budding soccer stars for a week-long camp at Pacific University

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: AMANDA MILES - Brenden Bone, 13, of Vancouver, Wash., works on a goalkeeping drill Sunday at the Portland Timbers boys camp at Lincoln Park. Anyone driving past Lincoln Park this week or walking their dog on the park’s paved paths or wanting to go for a run on the track will be hard-pressed to miss them — the dozens of soccer-playing teenage boys who have swarmed the facility.

A total of 120 in all, these boys have come to Forest Grove this week to take part in the Portland Timbers Boys Residential Soccer Camp, where they are working on their skills and increasing their understanding of the game.

The sold-out camp, which kicked off on Sunday and continues through Thursday, drew players from across the country, even from as far away as Hawaii. All week long, the campers are performing drills and playing games on the field and learning about college recruiting, academics and sport psychology off of it.

The Timbers organization staged its first youth residential camp in 2011, the same year that the Timbers joined Major League Soccer. All three editions of the camp have taken place in Forest Grove. Throughout their stay, the campers — who range in age from 13 to 18 — are staying in Pacific University’s dorms and eating meals at the university’s dining hall.

“It’s absolutely wonderful for both the campers and the university itself to get exposure by having 120 young aspiring athletes, and scholar-athletes at that,” noted Mike Smith, the Portland Timbers Youth Academy director.

During an afternoon practice session on a hot and breezy day, Smith described the quality of the coaching staff at the camp as “very, very good,” pointing out that all of the coaches are members of the Timbers Academy staff or are Olympic Development Program coaches.

Those coaches are working with players from disparate areas of the country. In addition to an entire high school team from Hawaii, campers came from states such as California, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Minnesota. One player who had registered, Smith recalled, was from South Dakota. Several of the players are also prospective members for Timbers Youth Academy program’s upcoming season, which starts in August.

“It’s exciting to get kids from different areas and get them all wearing Timbers gear and be at a beautiful campus,” Smith said.

The first day of camp was about coaches getting to know and evaluate the players to put them in groups of similar ability, Smith said. Overall, the skill level should be quite high, as Smith described the boys as mostly being some of the top players in their age groups in the areas where they live. At that point, the campers still had much of a week’s worth of work ahead of them, including work in facets of the game such as small-group attacking and defending, team shape, crossing and finishing. They are also doing speed and agility training and testing in some sessions and playing tournament games in the evenings.

Topics for the week in off-field sessions include learning about mental preparation from a sports psychologist, as well as college preparation and academics, and how to get recruited. A member of the Timbers was also scheduled to make an appearance at the camp sometime this week, though Smith was not yet sure on which day.

“A lot of these kids will be interested in playing college soccer, but some of them are 13. It’s not quite on their radar yet,” Smith said with a chuckle.

Sixteen of this week’s campers play on the varsity soccer team at Mid-Pacific Institute, a small private school in Honolulu, and were accompanied to Oregon by a couple of their coaches. The group arrived in Oregon on Saturday and plans to depart for Hawaii this coming Sunday.

“There’s soccer camps everywhere,” head coach Jayson Abe said. “I think the attraction was you get coached and instructions from some pro coaches, the Portland Timbers.”

Besides serving as chaperones for their players, the coaches were there to learn and observe and develop, Abe said. Before returning home, Abe had plans for his squad to play at least one game against an area club team and to take his players on a couple of college tours.

After working on some juggling and speed drills in the same group during Sunday afternoon’s practice session, campers Jack Weyler and Charlie Stringer took a moment to chat about their early camp experiences and what they were looking forward to for the rest of the week. Both boys gave thumbs up to Pacific’s dining hall and dorms.

“It’s a good camp. It’s been worth it,” said Jack, 12, of Portland. “All the kids I’ve met are pretty cool.”

As for Charlie, 13, from Medford, he was looking forward to playing the games, as well as sleeping and resting — both worthwhile and necessary activities during a busy week of soccer.

“The Timbers are second (in MLS) right now,” he said. “It’s pretty exciting, so I was like, ‘You know, I’m going to go celebrate by going to one of their camps.’”

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