The State of Soccer: Oregon Part 1
Salem, Oregon, has nearly one-hundred and fifty-five thousand residents; it is the capital of the state and home to multiple youth soccer organizations, both city-organized as well as private clubs. One of which is the Capital Fútbol Club, which is also the host of USL League Two side Timbers U23s. Both, the legacy of soccer in Salem and the story of the Timbers U23s have separate narratives which recently found themselves intertwined and brought both semi-professional men’s, as well as women’s soccer, back to the “Cherry City.” The Timbers U23s were founded in 2008 in the USL-PDL, as a part of the then USL Portland Timbers’ development structure – in a way, the U23s actually predate the current iteration of their parent MLS side, Portland Timbers.
The team announced a relocation in 2017 to the Capital city of Salem, and there were fans already waiting for season tickets to a team they could call their own—which they hadn’t had since the heady days of the Cascade Surge. The Surge, a side which provided semi-professional soccer to the Capital of Oregon for 14 years (1995-2009) had existed through the multiple iterations and growth periods of the very league which the U23s play in today. The old Surge organization is still connected to the soccer scene in Salem in many ways – one of the original founders, Dave Irby, still operates Surge International, a soccer ministry and it partners with youth soccer programs in coaching partnerships. Additionally, former Surge player Benje Orozco now serves as the Capital Fútbol Club Board President. Benje knows that this club is more than just a training ground for potential professional players; he is a family man who recognizes the amazing connection soccer can make for kids and their community as well, “Soccer is a tool to get kids into school, and to become good citizens of the community they’re involved in. The responsibility we have to our community is to help kids pursue their dreams and transition to being role models and good citizens of their communities. By coaching and being involved with CFC, my and my family’s lives have been blessed.”
To learn more about the current soccer team surging in Salem, we reached out to the Capital Fútbol Club Executive Director, Collin Box, who took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few fundamental questions about the organization; How they got to Salem, what their mission is, and how do they connect with the local support despite an affiliation with their parent organization, the Portland Timbers, who are an hour north on the I-5. During its time in Portland, the U23s played their soccer on the same ground as the MLS side, as well as their USL-Championship sibling squad, T2. As a matter of fact, the Timbers U23s have graduated a few notable players from their ranks into both the top USL side, as well as the MLS boys-in-green; including former standouts Jake Gleeson, and Kharlton Belmar. Timbers U23s even have a winning pedigree, who became the first PDL Champion to ever go, not only undefeated, but a perfect 16-0-0. But there remained the story of this successful branch of the Timbers organization moving to Salem. According to Box,
“The team moved to Salem in 2017 after we entered discussions with both Gavin Wilkinson and Nick Mansueto. As our youth club, Capital FC Timbers, was already affiliated as a Timbers Alliance member, there was a built-in level of trust and relationship that existed beforehand. With the addition of T2 and the growth of the Timbers and Thorns Academies, the Timbers organization was looking to move the U23’s out of the crowded Portland market, and we ended up being the right fit in Salem—I do think it’s worth noting as well, that Aaron Lewis, our current coach, originally worked with the PDL squad from 2010-12 as the team administrator. It’s been helpful having his knowledge and history of the team guide us as we began things here in Salem.”
The Timbers and Thorns organization is well-known for its dedicated fan base; did it follow you to Salem, or was there already a built-in level of support who were just waiting for a club? Are they as wild as the first team's Army in Portland?
“The fan base for the Timbers is incredible, and we definitely experienced that as the team moved down to Salem. Not only did the Salem Chapter of the Timbers Army adopt the team whole-heartedly, but we also saw support from Timbers supporters everywhere - especially in our big derby vs Sounders U23. Wherever we travel, the Timbers army seems to show up to support. We’ve had tremendous support as we’ve played games in places like Bend, Albany, and even saw some supporters come out when we were in Tucson in 2017 for the PDL Northwest Division semi-finals.”
Being an active member of the community is a large part of the Timbers and Thorns mission--not just playing soccer. In what ways do the Timbers U23s contribute to their city? How could fans or even just residents of Salem get involved?
“Our mission for the team is much bigger than just what happens on the field. We believe in the power of sport to unite and inspire. In coordination with the Timbers Army in Salem, we’ve used games to support local nonprofits and provided tickets to foster families and kids in our area. One of the unique parts about the Timbers U23 players is that these are accessible future professionals. We regularly have these players in our local elementary schools telling their stories of how they ended up where they are.
“For those in the community wanting to get involved, it’s as simple as bringing a teddy bear to our annual teddy bear toss for Liberty House Child Abuse Assessment Center or donating a can of food during our food drive. But even more than that, it’s an attitude of unity, respect, and community that we want to embody. We really view this team as a way to benefit our community.”
Where does the club draw its players from? A lot of teams at this level of soccer are nearly dependent upon college students to fill out a roster, is this the case with U23s as well? Are there any players who have come up through an associated youth program? Are there players who never went to college but just have the skills to play at this level and have fought their way onto the team?
“We draw players mostly from college programs that we are connected with throughout the country. Through our affiliation with the Timbers brand, we’ve been very successful in attracting high quality talent and pushed through more players to professional soccer than any other USL2 program in the nation.
“We also have open tryouts and have had several players make it into the squad as they pursue the dream.
“We do have Timbers Academy players as well as several players from our youth club that have gone through and play for the U23’s. The most notable of these is Jordan Farr, who was our goalkeeper in 2017 and is now beginning his second season with USL Championship side Indy Eleven.”
What match or matches is the club most looking forward to? Do you have a rival? I mean, we all know about the natural rivalry between Portland and Seattle, but does that translate to the U23s? Do other clubs in Oregon pose a rivalry, or do you view them as friendly competition?
“The Northwest Division of USL2 is the best division in the league. We have quality teams that have elevated the standard of lower-league soccer in the US and Canada that do a very professional job within their organization. We really enjoy all the matches, but things get the most heated between us and Seattle. That’s when the Timbers Army comes out in bigger numbers and the intensity rises.
“We also have a good rivalry with Lane United in Eugene as our only Oregon rivals. They have a fantastic supporter’s group that travels well. Because we’re neighbors, we tend to get good crowds both here in Salem and in Eugene.
“We also really look forward to the games against Calgary. In our first year in Salem in 2017, we played three straight matches against the Canadians and won the division on the last game. Last year, Calgary were champions of not only the division but also the league, and so their quality and professionalism is something we always look forward to.“
Its well-known that support for the Timbers, at any level, is legendary. Collin Box noted and praised the support, but to get an idea of where it comes from and why it comes so naturally to the soccer community of Salem, we turned to Brian Stephen and Cliff Eiffler-Rodriguez of Timbers Army Capital City Company—the supporter’s group for the U23s in Salem. What is it like supporting a club at this level; are you supporting the "local team" or is it an extension of your support for the Portland Timbers?
“TACCC started before we had this version of a local team, but I believe it was after Cascade Surge had dissolved.... I believe it was around the same timeframe. It was around a few years already before I started to get involved. My understanding is that it really started as a Salem watch party group for Timbers away games, as many of us are able to make it to home matches. Dean Howes and AJ Klausen, from Vagabond Brewing, Brent Diskin, Andrew Yaxley, Juan and Lynn Farias and a handful of others helped to start TACCC initially, as far as I know.
“The thing about the U23 matches is that all of these kids are still trying to make it. They’re staying frosty for their college teams and are trying to be recognized. There isn’t any TA politics in the stands. There are only the players on the field and the supporters in the stands. And they’re relatively local kids; some come from a ways-away, we had some Akron kids here wanting to be seen by Porter when he was coach. We have Pilots. We have Zags. We have local Corban kids. There are former Surge players in the administration and the kids of former Surge players have come through the system. Former U23s players are playing for first teams in San Jose and Orlando, as well as Jordan Farr at Indy Eleven. It’s fun to watch them come through.”
Where did Capital City Company get its start? Are there supporters who can remember supporting the Cascade Surge, or is this a Timbers SG and the old Salem area club is out of sight out of mind?
“I believe the idea behind making it a regional group was to coordinate community events and contribute to Timbers Army Stand Together type events. When CFC made a bid to host the U23s it was just a bonus at first, but was seen as an opportunity to share the ethos and help spread the love of the game. Then, after spending time at the matches, it grew on us and we really appreciated the fact that they’re here. The matches are a lot of fun.”
I've been to a Timbers U23s match or two, and I've seen firsthand that the support for the players on the pitch is genuine. However, there is a culture amongst Supporter's Groups to go one step further and give back to the community. In what ways to the Capital City Company do that?
“Capital City Company has an annual food drive at the U23 matches, as well as a “stuffed animal toss” every year for the Liberty House Child Abuse Assessment Center. Very child who is assessed receives a stuffed animal and a blanket, and we’ve been able to donate animals for that. We also have worked with the local clubs to organize food drives at their tournaments. We’ve helped as a group at Marion-Polk Food Share, not just with the food drives, but also separating and bagging food at the warehouse. We’ve helped clean up debris for Keizer Parks, and along with Futsal Oregon are trying to help bring Futsal courts to Salem area parks. Aside from Facebook and Twitter, we have a website at www.tacapitalcitycompany.com.”
Smoke, drums, tifo, chants... there are so many elements to a Supporter’s Group. Which in-stadium elements does CCC do well? Is there anything you'd like to do better?
“This is the third season we’ve had the U23s in Salem. We’re still getting our feet under us. We’ve had drums at every match, and our consistent drummer actually broke through his drum head during a match this season. We started having smoke mid-season of season one (thank you 4th of July fireworks stands). It helped that season one was a great year and we had big numbers then… they had a great season and they eventually lost to Reno in the USOC. What we’d need are more drummers. We had a couple trumpets for a while, but they haven’t been around for a while... so we could definitely use help with that. drummers. We had a couple trumpets for a while, but they haven’t been around for a while... so we could definitely use help with that.
- Joshua Duder