The Portland Timbers 2 will travel more than 400 miles to play a professional soccer match at 7 p.m. Saturday at Meridian’s Rocky Mountain High.
Despite the distance, the club brings a local flavor as it takes on the Swope Park Rangers of Kansas City with two Idaho-born 18-year-olds suiting up for Portland — Eagle’s Blake Bodily and Pocatello’s Terrell Lowe.
“When I left Boise, I didn’t know if I’d be back much at all,” Bodily said Tuesday from Portland. “I didn’t even know the Timbers would have a game over there or anything. I’m just super excited to be back and to play in front of the hometown.”
Both Bodily and Lowe joined the year-round Portland Timbers Youth Academy two years ago, but they took different routes.
Scouts spotted Lowe early and recruited him to a Real Salt Lake academy in Arizona before he could enroll at Pocatello’s Century High as a freshman. He moved to Portland two years ago, when his father got a job at Intel, and enrolled in the Timbers’ academy.
Bodily headed to Portland two years ago on a whim, attending an open tryout before his junior year at Eagle High. He impressed coaches enough to earn a call back, then a spot in the academy.
The structure of their life in the academy remains similar to their lives in Idaho. They live with family, attend public schools and practice after school. But Lowe said the quality of the training they receive from professional coaches aiming to develop professional players is miles ahead of what they could get in Idaho.
“Being from kind of a small town in Idaho in Pocatello, there wasn’t really a lot of coaches that knew the tactical stuff,” Lowe said. “Being down at RSL and here with the Timbers, I’ve learned a lot about the game. I’ve just progressed a lot, too.”
The pair has progressed so far they’ve caught the eyes of coaches higher in the Timbers organization. Bodily, a midfielder, made his professional debut with Timbers 2 last summer, playing in seven games. Injuries have limited him this season, but he’s come off the bench in Portland’s past two matches.
Lowe made his pro debut this season, playing in seven games and starting four, bouncing between the central midfield and right back.
“Coming from the academy to the professionals is kind of eye-opening,” Bodily said. “The pros are bigger, faster, stronger. You have to be quicker and smarter in everything you do.”
Both maintain their amateur status because of their enrollment in the Timbers’ academy. Bodily has signed with Washington, and Lowe is bound for national powerhouse Virginia.
Major League Soccer began incentivizing teams to develop players through their academy programs in 2008. “Homegrown players” can leave to play for college programs or U.S. national teams, but they are not subject to the MLS SuperDraft and remain under control of the team running their academy.
The league placed Idaho in Portland’s homegrown territory. Bodily and Lowe represent the first two to take advantage of the new pipeline to Portland. But the Timbers’ partnership with the Idaho Youth Soccer Association and their alliance with two Idaho clubs — the Boise Nationals and the Coeur d’Alene Sting, the first rungs on the ladder to Portland — ensure they won’t be the last.
“Being able to play in front of kids that are from Idaho, being able to see me and Blake, I hope they can see us as someone to look up to,” Lowe said. “I’ve heard there is going to be a really big turnout, so I’m really excited to perform in front of all of them.”
Who are these teams?
Both the Portland Timbers 2 and the Swope Park Rangers (Sporting Kansas City) are affiliates of MLS clubs in the United Soccer League, America’s third-tier professional soccer league.
The Timbers and Sporting KC can pull players up from their USL teams to fill in for injuries, poor-performing players or players off with their national teams. The clubs also promote youth players in need of tougher competition from their academies to their USL teams.
Tickets for the 7 p.m. Saturday game are still available and are all $20.