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Soccer: For star goalie, pipes dream flows through Canby

Mitch North, who is now at Oregon State, moved from Medford to spend his senior year with the Portland Timbers youth academy.


by: DAVID BLAIR / PORTLAND TIMBERS - Mitch North was a goalkeeper in the youth development ranks of the Portland Timbers system this past year. A three-year standout at South Medford High School, he lived in Canby for his senior year to be closer to the professional clubs program. Hes now on the roster at Oregon State.Before the beginning of the 2012-13 school year, Mitchell North received an offer from the Portland Timbers to join their U-18 youth academy.

“It was a dream come true — something I never thought I’d be involved in,” he says.

The catch, of course, was that his home in southern Oregon is more than 250 miles away from the field where he was expected on a daily basis for training.

After some deliberation, the star goalkeeper from South Medford High School decided that the prospect of playing in the development ranks of a professional soccer team as a teenager was worth overcoming that geographical obstacle.

Which is how he ended up in Canby.

The 6-foot-2, 180-pound athlete arranged to attend Canby High for his senior year, also passing on his last season of prep soccer because players who join the Timbers academy are not allowed to compete for other teams.

“I left my friends, my family, my parents and my graduating class to go play soccer,” he says. “It’s been an adventure.”

***

His soccer adventure might have never begun if not for the influence of his older brother. Wanting to follow in the footsteps of Matt North, whom he held — and still holds — in high esteem, the younger brother started playing soccer as well.

Then North realized he didn’t exactly enjoy running.

“I almost quit,” he says with a laugh. “Then I figured I’m athletic and I’m tall, so I might as well try goalkeeper. And the rest is history. But it didn’t really work out perfectly because I still run in practice.”

It seemed to work out pretty well. North became the starting goalkeeper at South Medford in his freshman year, when the program reached the state championship game. The Panthers also made the playoffs in 2010 and 2011, compiling a record of 33-14-5 in North’s three years at the Class 6A school.

He would have enjoyed a fourth trip to the OSAA postseason, which South Medford earned this past year, but the lure of the Timbers was too powerful.

***

The day before school started this past fall, North arrived in an unfamiliar town.

Although he likely could have found a willing host closer to the team in the Portland area, he prepared to stay in Canby because of a soccer connection. He’d be living with the family of Abdiel Morfin, a standout Canby player who had also accepted a spot in the Timbers academy.

The original living arrangement didn’t end up working out, though, leaving North worried that he’d have to move back home and give up on his commitment to the Timbers.

“He was kind of depressed,” Canby High teacher Dan Lever said. “It was right before Christmas break. I had him in my weight-training class. I knew his story — being from Medford, playing for the Timbers academy — and I thought, ‘This is too bad. He’s a good kid. Canby doesn’t need to lose a guy like this.’”

Lever felt he was in a position to help. Two of his three children — CHS alumni Dan and Catherine — had already graduated from Linfield College and were no longer living at home. His house had hosted exchange students and his kids’ friends several times in the past.

“We’re used to it,” Lever said.

So he and North discussed the arrangement, breathing new life into the goalie’s athletic aspirations. He stayed with the Lever family through graduation in June, when the Timbers academy season wrapped up.

“His mom and dad came to visit a couple times, and we treated him like one of our own kids,” Lever said. “He was good about letting us know where he was and what he was doing. My wife likes to cook, and he sure ate a lot.”

***

The soccer field was a home away from home for North during his whirlwind senior year.

The goalkeeper earned the starting nod in the Timbers academy’s loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy’s U-18 side back in September, and his performance was good enough to keep him atop the depth chart on the youth team.

But a series of events in the upper ranks of the Timbers organization allowed him to climb even higher. Due to injuries, North was designated as the backup goalie in the Reserves’ game against the Seattle Sounders.

“I wasn’t thinking that I was going to have a chance to play or anything,” North told the Medford Mail Tribune shortly thereafter.

But play he did, as starter Jake Gleeson injured his hand in the 32nd minute of the rivalry game.

North made two saves, helping the Reserves preserve a 3-2 victory.

“He ran out there like he’s been there before and played like it,” South Medford High boys soccer coach Dave Kaufmann told the Mail Tribune. “He just had the swagger of looking like, ‘Hey, this is no big thing, I’ve been here before.’ It was pretty impressive.”

Said North: “It’s been incredible.”

***

The next step of North’s soccer career was made official from an office at Canby High on National Signing Day this past February.

That chaotic afternoon, North faxed his letter of intent to join the men’s soccer team at Oregon State.

“I had a number of colleges looking at me, and I’ve been a Duck fan all my life so I thought OSU was my last resort,” says North, who is planning to study business and marketing. “But I went to OSU (for a visit), and it was the coolest place I had been to. It was a win-win. I get to stay close to home, play D-1 soccer and go to a great school. It was an easy choice.”

North also drew interest from San Jose State, Santa Clara, Purdue and North Carolina, among others, but he eventually decided to play at the Pac-12 university in Corvallis. The Beavers’ season begins Aug. 23 at home against Northwest Nazarene.

North says his association with the Timbers was invaluable in his quest to play soccer after high school.

“I would have D-1 colleges call me from the East Coast, and they’d be like, ‘Hey, we want you to come out and visit,’” North says. “I would ask, ‘How do you even know me?’ They’re like, ‘Honestly, I saw your name on the Academy website and knew you were a good player from that.’ So it helped exponentially in terms of getting colleges to notice.”



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