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Portland's Michel Turning PDL Performance Into College Success

09/21/2017, 11:30am EDT
By Colton Coreschi -

Timbers U23's Benji Michel is off to a hot sophomore start at the University of Portland

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When Orlando, Florida-native Benji Michel committed to the University of Portland in 2016, he entered his first collegiate season on the heels of a summer of moving across the country and adjusting to a new environment.

Even through that eventful few months, Michel came into his freshman season with the Pilots and performed at a high level. The Montverde Academy product started 18 matches for Portland, scoring ten goals and notching four assists, helping lead the Pilots to a 12-5-2 record and an NCAA Tournament appearance.

Though their tournament run was cut short by a penalties loss to the University of New Mexico in the first round, Michel was eager to get better and raise his level of play in his sophomore season. Before the fall rolled back around in 2017, Michel found himself spending the summer in the Premier Development League with the Portland Timbers U23, a place he credits greatly with his hot start this season.

“The PDL has really prepared me to get into mid-season form where I’m scoring goals and getting my name out there,” Michel told “I feel more confident this season than when I came in last season as a freshman because of the games I was able to play over the summer with the Timbers U23. In my professional future, the PDL has helped prepare me because at the pro level I know there are no days off and those players are constantly working on their game in the offseason. I see PDL as still being a part of the season, despite being in the offseason, because I am still working on developing myself instead of laying around or going out with friends.”

Photo by University of Portland Athletics

Michel’s professional-level work ethic and determination paid off during the PDL season, as he helped guide the Timbers U23 to the Northwest Division crown and playoff appearance, including a win over the Calgary Foothills FC before falling in the Western Conference semifinals. He recorded four goals in five appearances, scoring at an impressive rate of a goal every 73.5 minutes, and also notched a goal in the team’s 3-0 win over the Foothills FC.

In his sophomore season at Portland, Michel has carried over his strong PDL form and has emerged as a leader for the Pilots. He’s already reached the halfway point of last season’s goal total, with six tallies through his first six matches, and he’s helped the Pilots to a 4-2-0 record with only double-overtime losses to UNLV and California as blemishes on an otherwise stellar start.

He counts the opportunity to keep working prior to the college season as a special factor that makes the PDL a great home for collegiate athletes.

“It has unique advantages for collegiate players,” said Michel. “You have the chance to play with talented players from other colleges, make new friends, learn from other players’ ideas, keep in shape and get into mid-season form.”

“I would recommend PDL to collegiate players and high schoolers because it’s a great way to evaluate yourself to see what level you’re at,” he continued. “The PDL has mainly college players and some ex-pros here and there but it’d be good to try to play in the PDL as a high schooler to get used to the level of college soccer.”

Photo by University of Portland Athletics

Michel has clearly gotten used to the level of college soccer himself, as his six-match tear has included a stunning hat-trick performance against Fairfield in a 6-0 Pilots victory in which Michel scored all three goals within a 25-minute span. It was a performance that gave a clear indication of how impactful Michel can be and what he offers to teams at the professional level. But while he thoroughly enjoyed the fruits of his labor, he’s kept a cool head and remembered that it was that labor that got him there in the first place.

“Going into the match I felt well prepared because my coach and I went over their film,” said Michel. “We went over it studying their strengths and weaknesses and how to exploit their center backs. During the game I was hungry to score goals. Scoring three goals in 25 minutes was just mind blowing for me, but after 35 mins the coach felt the need to take me out because we started off really strong. It was a couple of great balls from my teammates and I just did the rest. It was a great game for me but I couldn’t have done without the help of my teammates.”

Photo by University of Portland Athletics

It hasn’t been an entirely smooth ride though, as those two double-overtime losses sting for Michel and the Pilots, particularly the recent match against California. In that match, Michel knocked in the opening goal in the second half for Portland, but Cal would strike back with an equalizer before scoring the golden goal in the 103rd minute. It was surely a disappointment, but one the team put behind them quickly as they came out the next match and earned a shutout victory over Oregon State.

“It was a disappointing loss, especially since we dominated the whole game, but we knew we had to quickly move on in order to prepare for Oregon State,” said Michel. “I told the boys, ‘It’s a long season, we can’t hold our heads down because of our mistakes. Let’s bounce back with sharp training sessions this week and get after OSU’.”

Though Michel didn’t score himself, his leadership helped rally the team to a strong performance to rebound nicely. It was another great showing for the Pilots in what has been a string of them in Michel’s time with the team, during which he’s contributed more often than not. He knows that his success comes from focus and effort, and he’s making sure to keep his level of preparation as high as it can be in order to keep his success going.

“My early success came from the little things that I’ve been doing well, and by making every day a routine,” Michel said. “Things like waking up early, getting a proper breakfast an hour and a half before training, then using that last hour before training to get my body physically prepared by getting treatment. That way I’m feeling fresh for training. Once training begins, it’s making sure that I am locked in, ready to compete and setting the right tone in the training session.”

Photo by University of Portland Athletics

Needless to say, Michel comes off as a young talent with the right kind of head on his shoulders. With help from his teammates and coaches, he’s developed a healthy be-prepared mindset that has allowed him to keep himself fit and performing at the highest level. It’s a mentality that portends success in professional sports, and that’s ultimately the place that Michel wants to end up.

“My dream since I was a child has been to sign my first contract somewhere in Europe,” said Michel. “I am working twice as hard as I did last year to reach my goal. If there’s a chance I can reach the pro level, I will continue to push myself to be the best version of myself that I can be. But right now I can only focus on the season and pray that God opens doors for me as I continue to develop while playing college soccer at the highest level.”

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