The road to the pros for a football or basketball prodigy remains clear — dominate in high school, snag a college scholarship and then get drafted.
But for youth soccer stars like Eagle native Blake Bodily, the landscape continues to shift. And as one of the first pioneers to walk the latest landscape, he can only wait for the new territory to bear fruit.
“With football, you have to go to school,” Bodily said. “You don’t see any 16-, 17-, 18-year-olds getting picked up by NFL teams. Definitely with soccer, it’s more diverse.”
Bodily left Eagle High after his sophomore year, enrolling in the Portland Timbers Youth Academy. He and Pocatello’s Terrell Lowe were the first two from Idaho to chase their professional dreams in the Timbers’ academy system.
Bodily impressed the Timbers organization enough to make his professional debut at 17 two years ago with Timbers 2 (T2), Portland’s reserve team in the United Soccer League. He’s remained with T2 since then, training full time with the team and starting five of the club’s seven games so far this season.
Bodily maintains his amateur status while playing alongside professionals because he’s still a member of the Timbers youth system. But by the end of the season, the 19-year-old will age out of the academy and approach a crossroad.
Either earn a professional contract offer from the Timbers or play on scholarship with the University of Washington. Bodily signed with Washington last year, but he took a gap year this season to continue to develop in the Timbers system and chase his professional dreams.
“The standard is set higher playing with a professional club. It’s more cutthroat,” Bodily said of staying in Portland. “You have to always be on top of your game, otherwise you won’t be playing. There are better players, obviously, players from all over the world.”
Bodily maintains he’d prefer to sign with the Timbers before Washington’s season begins in August, whether that’s a member of the first team or, more likely, the USL club. But he can also play for the Huskies for a year, two or even four and still remain under Portland’s control. The club retains his rights while he’s at Washington and can still sign him.
T2 head coach Andrew Gregor has worked with Bodily since he arrived three years ago. He said the winger carries a natural confidence and intelligence that makes him a threat to defenses while bombing down the sideline.
Bodily has yet to score yet for T2 this season after four goals in 16 games last year. But he earned a penalty kick that led to T2’s first goal April 22 against Sacramento.
“One of the things he brings is he’s a creative young attacker, fearless at times,” Gregor said. “He causes a lot of problem for other teams because of his energy, because of his fearlessness.”
But because Bodily is one of the first to navigate soccer’s new landscape, what comes next isn’t exactly clear. Gregor said the Timbers have a myriad of variables to weigh when deciding to offer a contract to an academy player.
Is he ready to be a pro? Is he mature enough? Would time on his own at college be better for his long-term growth? How important is education to him and his family? Does the club have a spot for him?
All Bodily can do is continue to produce and wait for a contract offer.
“We’re going to have some difficult conversations down the road to try and find out when the right time is for Blake to take a chance to become a professional,” Gregor said. “There’s not an exact science to it. The variables behind it, there are so many other things come into play that affect how his future is going to go.”
The next wave?
A partnership between the Portland Timbers and the Boise Nationals youth soccer club funnels the top talent from the Treasure Valley to the Timbers development academy.
Caldwell’s Adrian Arguello, a midfielder, has started 23 of the Timbers’ U-15/16 academy team 31 games this season. And the Nationals sent a group of their top players between ages 13 and 18 years old to Portland last week for the Timbers staff to evaluate.