The bar is set high for GPS Portland Phoenix as they prepare for their upcoming season in the Premier Development League.
After finishing with a record of 10-4-2 in 2012, the Maine-based club not only came in second in the standings, but also earned a spot in this year’s US Open Cup in May. This adds more to the club’s agenda as, according to General Manager Alistair Bain, they begin fielding a younger lineup for the upcoming season.
“First of all, I think we’re going to see a high-level of skill,” says the GM. “(Last year) we had a number of older players who had experience playing with pro teams over in Europe. This year, we’ve switched our focus to taking on younger players.”
Bain refers to the squad Portland assembled last season as “probably the oldest group in (the) conference,” including international players such as Australian Joel Theissen (27) and Englishman Jason Massie (29), two midfielders who combined to contribute seven assists and four goals for the Phoenix.
“We brought in players from Britain and Australia along with Americans who were older and wiser for the game,” Bain points out. “Now, we’re going for younger players who we feel still have that same level of quality but are going to be with us longer… for the next two to three years.”
Developing young players over time is a goal Portland’s known for achieving in the past, given the team’s history with player development. While the PDL Northeast Division has always produced quality athletes for higher divisions such as Worcester Hydra’s Charlie Rugg (Los Angeles Galaxy) and CFC Azul’s Ryan Kinne (Pittsburgh Riverhounds), GPS Portland has continuously picked and trained high-quality prospects, including Aaron Schoenfeld (Columbus Crew), Bryan Gaul (LA Galaxy), and the newly-signed Brian Fekete, Sporting Kansas City’s 52nd overall pick in Major League Soccer’s 2013 Supplemental Draft.
“We (were) absolutely delighted.” Bain says in regards to Fekete’s progress. “You know, we set out with the mantra of building the club and making a successful program, but the ultimate angle is helping these players get to higher levels, and seeing the boys do that has been fantastic.”
A University of Tampa Spartan, Fekete joined GPS Portland Phoenix in 2011 via the club’s partnership program with the Tampa Bay Rowdies and was part of the team’s runs at both the PDL playoffs and US Open Cup in 2012.
“Brian was with us for a couple of seasons, so we really saw the development in him, but to see him really move on to the next level is going to be really exciting to watch.”
Fekete recently scored for Orlando City SC, Kansas City’s USL Pro partner, in a friendly against the Columbus Crew, equalizing for Orlando in the 79th minute to make it 2-2 before the Crew earned a penalty kick and walked away with the win.
Like a phoenix rising, both Fekete and GPS Portland continue to go forth and prepare for what awaits them in the coming season. But while Fekete trains harder and hunts for opportunity with SKC, Portland follows a different path; trying to repeat its success not just at winning games but developing a new generation of players.
“Again, the skill level and quality of the players are going to be such that our games will be very exciting to watch,” Bain finishes. “Expect to see the trek of the players and individual qualities (as they) come out this year. And in terms of coming and getting a bit of excitement, this will definitely be a team worth watching.”