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Found 17 results

  1. "The U18 team, we saw this year that they didn't get beyond the group stage [of the playoffs] but they performed very well" Whitecaps President Bobby Lenarduzzi told reporters at an executive roundtable on Monday. "One of the reasons that they were handcuffed at the actual championships was because Kianz Froese and Marco Bustos were up [in the MLS team] and weren't playing there. So that's actually success as far as I'm concerned. "If we don't get the results but we're pushing players up then that's our yardstick. Our U16s got beyond the group stage but unfortunately lost on penalties. But lots of players that we think have an exciting future with the club." Despite the successes, no-one at the Whitecaps is resting on their laurels. They know there's still a lot of hard work ahead to get to where they want to be with their long-term strategic plan for youth development in Vancouver, British Columbia and throughout Canada. And it is the growth of the lesser publicised Whitecaps Academy Centres in recent years that has perhaps seen the biggest boost for the club's desire to develop that Canadian talent pool and have the widest range of young talent available to them. The Whitecaps now have Academy Centres throughout British Columbia, and have recently established three key centres in Saskatchewan and one in Manitoba. They've been a huge success and there's more to come. "I'm very proud of what we do in the Academy Centres," Whitecaps co-owner Jeff Mallett told the roundtable. "This was originally about BC but now we realise that we have the opportunity to establish ourselves across the Western provinces and more and more young players from the east are considering us in their selection of developing their football careers, which is a big bonus for us as well. So we'll continue to develop on the Academy side." That message was echoed by Lenarduzzi, who confirmed that the next part of that Academy development will come as soon as this week. "The Academy centres are something that we are proud of and as time goes on, I think we'll be even prouder and we intend to have our footprint all over Canada," Lenarduzzi added. "I know we have territories in Quebec and Ontario that we can't stray in to, but that won't stop us from investigating those areas outside of that. "We currently have nine Academy Centres and we're in 13 cities, three different provinces and we'll have an announcement later this week that will actually incorporate another province, so we're excited about that." That province is Ontario and the announcement will officially be made on Thursday in London in conjunction with the Elgin Middlesex Soccer Association. Although Major League Soccer has identified restricted development territories for their three Canadian clubs, the Whitecaps area allows them to venture into western Ontario, and they very much want to take advantage of that. The Whitecaps goal is a simple one. They want to be the first choice football club that the best players and the top prospects from throughout Canada want to come and play for. "Our job is to be the best choice out there and be a way of having, through our coaching staff, a clear path through USL to the first team," Mallet explained. "And all the things the players are looking for - minutes, time, being able to develop. "Really that's it at the end of the day. I think we are very competitive in North America. I'd argue that we're in the top three or four in North America. Our objectives are to be as high as some of the European or international clubs, South America included, to put ourselves on that level. "As it comes to individual players, some are going to come through, some are not. Whenever someone doesn't come through, we analyse it of why and try to improve it the next time through." Why would a kid near Toronto or Montreal want to move west when they have MLS clubs on their doorstep? Simple. Right now, the Whitecaps have several factors going for them in their desire to be a young player's preferred club of choice. The key one is Carl Robinson's philosophy of playing young players and build the 'Caps around young talent that will hopefully be in Vancouver for many years to come. Young players want to come to a club where they see that the manager is prepared to give them a shot. Several players on the Whitecaps MLS and USL squads have made that very point to us this year. They signed with Vancouver because they knew that they'd be given their chance and it was then up to them to take it. It's a philosophy the club have embraced and Mallett was keen to highlight the role he feels Robinson has played in the Whitecaps continuing to be a "proper football club", not just giving lip-sync to it but actually being heavily involved and hands-on in every aspect of the club from the youth teams up. "Carl has been the living, breathing example of how to set up a proper football club," Mallett stated. "He's carried out what we hoped the organisation would be, which is having a coaching philosophy that runs from the 14s, and eventually maybe even younger, threads all the way through. "There is a clear path and the gaffer of the shiny MLS club knows the name of the players at the 14s, sitting at the 16s, knows who's on the bench in the USL, meeting with Alan Koch. These are the things you want and then the global connection. I think he's done a fantastic job and structurally this is what we were looking for." But the Whitecaps are also looking at that area in a player's life and career between youth team and the pro ranks, and feel their investment and plans in that regard will also attract players to join their academies. The 'Caps are naturally fully aware some players won't make the grade at all, while others may need a bit more time and development before they're candidates for the MLS squad. That's obviously where the USL team comes in and the now established pathway between the Residency, that and the first team. The Whitecaps are now fully embedded up at the University of British Columbia. The USL team play out of UBC's Thunderbird Stadium, the MLS squad primarily train there and the 'Caps new, state of the art training centre will be up and running there soon. But being on a university campus gives the club another opportunity to explore to ensure that young players throughout Canada want to be part of the Whitecaps system from the ground level up - giving the players both a football and a college education. In the past, if players graduated from the Residency their options were limited and if they wanted to plan for the future and get a degree, then going down the NCAA or CIS college route was really the only way to go, but that meant putting your pro footballing aspirations on hold for four or five years, or more often than not, for good. But that is no longer the case and the Whitecaps USL team can present a player with an opportunity to do both. WFC2 defender Chris Serban is the perfect first example of that. Serban graduated from the Whitecaps Residency program last summer and headed to UBC, becoming a pivotal player for the UBC Thunderbirds team and winning Rookie of the Year honours. The talented full-back then signed a pro contract with the 'Caps to play in USL in February and a key driving force behind his decision to do that was the fact that he could play football and continue his studies and degree at UBC at the same time. Ben McKendry came out of college at New Mexico in his Junior year to sign a MLS contract with the 'Caps and is now looking to finish the final year of his degree at UBC in his spare time. Going forward, the Whitecaps are actively exploring options with the university to offer players both an education and a USL contract. It's something that would attract players from not just Canada, but worldwide. And with such an option and path on the table for them it should also act as another driving reason for young Canadians to choose the Whitecaps and their academies over other teams. Not all would, or could, take that path but the carrot would most certainly be there to strive to achieve it. "It's been discussed," Mallett told us. "It's a unique asset we have and there's certain parts like that. Being a father, education is very important. It's not the UK model and other parts of the world where it's not looked at, at the level it is here. So we believe we have the asset. UBC is interested in doing that and we believe that could be a unique offering for our club." But back to the Academies. Thursday's announcement will make it 14 Academy Centres in four provinces, with more to come. But the key to the expansion of these Academies is to not overreach too soon or too fast and to protect the quality standard in each Centre before moving on to the next one. But the Whitecaps already know that there's a huge demand from kids across Canada to be part of their set-up. "We prefer to go slow growth," Lenarduzzi told us. "There are kids in other parts of Canada that we've identified that we'd love to relocate. We think that they're that talented. You can't discount the branding aspect of it as well, from a commercial point of view, but it is development driven. "We feel that if we can get ourselves around the country and for that matter, eventually other parts of the world as well, what we don't want to do is to feel like we've got the plan and do more than we're actually capable of doing. "Bart Choufour [Whitecaps Pre-Residency head coach] is now full time with us and that's made a huge difference because he's been able to get to these Academies outside and within British Columbia and provide the curriculum that the different clubs that we're working with and provincial associations are just desperate to have it." So just what is the plan for these Academy Centres and just where do they fit into the 'Caps current Residency program? For now, they will operate as 'Prospects' and 'Skills' Academies, playing games locally and provincially. The players will be monitored and assessed and once the Whitecaps identify a player as having that top potential to make the next step, they will be invited to head west to join the Residency program and play for their age appropriate side in USSDA. As the Academy Centres continue to grow the Whitecaps also haven't ruled out putting further teams into the USSDA in years to come. "I think looking down the road that is something that we'd certainly consider," Lenarduzzi added. "But what we want to do first and foremost is just make sure that we're doing a good job of what we're doing currently." The eagle eyed amongst you will also have noticed the throwaway line above about expanding outwith Canada. So to us, that clearly meant a South American Academy! Grow our own Latino talent. They do come on trees right? As ridiculous as that may sound (Barcelona are in Burnaby now after all), we did in fact ask about that and the 'Caps aren't ruling anything out! "We want to do what we're doing right now well," Lenarduzzi replied with a smile. "But then there's no reason why, as we evolve, that you can't look at that kind of situation. Then as those opportunities present themselves look at them for sure." Just let that sink in for a few seconds. The Whitecaps 'brand' on the lips of people outside of Canada and North America. Jeff Mallett feels it's not as out of the box as you may have initially thought and he's witnessed the huge rise in awareness in Major League Soccer and its teams these past few years, and the Whitecaps want to be a part of that and play a part in developing that awareness further. "I get to travel a lot in the football circles, not just in the UK but in different parts, and the MLS on people's radar," Mallett told us. "Just in the last year, it has changed dramatically. It really has as a viable option to come in. The teams that have come in with a second team in LA, the New York team, with Manchester City involved. "So when you go around and talk to real people involved in football, sitting down working with these 16s and 18s in these countries, it's on the map. Legitimately on the map. Honestly, two years ago, people were aware of it but not much talk, but it's come a long way. "So for us to be out there is not a bad idea. Nothing in the foreseeable future. We've got so much work to do here to finish this off before we scope, planting flags too far abroad." Never say never though!
  2. We've made our feelings known on this a lot over the years. That's a debate (again) for a whole other day, but in summary, we're always club before country. Whether that be my home one of Scotland or my adopted one of Canada, that feeling is the same. We're a Whitecaps site. Ultimately, we don't care what country the Whitecaps players come from, we want to see a winning side and the best players making the squad and getting the playing time because of their talent, not their passport. That said, we also absolutely love it when "one of our own" makes it and a youth player we've followed, talked to and supported from the Residency ranks comes through the pathway to the first team. That's why this site is packed with coverage of the 'Caps USL, U18 and U16 teams. For others, country comes first and Canadian clubs, whether at MLS, NASL or USL level should primarily be concerned with developing homegrown talent to help the national team and help Canada qualify for another World Cup. Always easy to say when it's not your money being spent on running said club. And for those people, the Whitecaps can do no right. How dare they play South American talent when there's Canadians that should be playing? How dare they actually do what they exist for and try and win trophies and make playoffs by playing their best players? The irony of it all, is that if you look at the Whitecaps developmental pyramid and its aims, the national team actually sits at the top of the pyramid, with the MLS team nestling in underneath. That doesn't fit their narrative though. Homegrown player development has been at the forefront of the Whitecaps since the current ownership group took over. The club deem it as a success goal but feel that it's still very much an ongoing process. "Once Greg Kerfoot and Jeff [Mallett] and the two Steves [Nash and Luczo] got involved, it was really a primary focus for us," Whitecaps President Bobby Lenarduzzi told media at an executive roundtable on Monday. "We wanted to be a club that developed players and as a result of that, we invested significantly in it. I think we have been trailblazers in MLS. "When we entered the league, our questions were actually related to what can we do with player development and we were actually getting back from them not a lot of information because clubs hadn't been interested in developing players. When you look at what's going on now, I think we were the catalyst to get that going." The 'Caps admit that it hasn't all been smooth sailing and there have been errors made to get to where they are at right now. "In our regard, we started up and I can be the first to tell you that we made mistakes along the way because we didn't have a model in North America to follow," Lenarduzzi added. "We couldn't emulate what they do in Europe because they don't have scholarship opportunities there. "They have infrastructure, they have league play. We didn't have any of that. So we've actually come a long way in that regard and I think we're starting to see the benefits of that now." Indeed they are. The Whitecaps now lead the league in homegrown talent on their MLS roster, a stat Lenarduzzi says makes him "very proud". It currently stands at eight and counting. The ultimate goal is to have 50% of the MLS roster made up of homegrown, developed players in a five to ten year timeframe. This season is shaping up to see the highest percentage of minutes played by Canadians for the Whitecaps in the MLS era (get all the stats on that on the excellent Out Of Touch blog). Again, that doesn't fit the whole narrative for those that feel that the Whitecaps don't do enough (anything?) for Canadian soccer. Neither does the excellent work done by the 'Caps in their Residency program in producing the talent that packs Canada's U23, U20 and youth teams. It's at national team level that the naysayers point figures. Why aren't the three Canadian MLS clubs packed to the brim with Canadian players? That's what Benito Floro certainly feels judging by his pre-Gold Cup media conference call where he described MLS as "a foreign league" out to help the "American program". "We have three teams who are playing in MLS," Floro added. "But only two or three players are starting. That’s a bad position for us, no?" To be fair, he is correct. But is that the fault of the clubs or a good indication that the players aren't good enough for that level compared to who else is on their squads? If he wants the answer, he should look at his recent results with Canada. Right now there are 10 MLS players on Canada's Gold Cup squad. Only one of them is a Whitecap, Russell Teibert, and he's not a starter under Floro. So is that the 'Caps fault as well? The solution for Floro is a Canadian league. That would also appear to be the path that the Canadian Soccer Association want to go down. All the murmurs points to the CSA establishing a D1 Canadian league, with an announcement imminent. Canada DOES need a national domestic league. Just not a top tier one. There is no way it can rival Major League Soccer right now, despite what the fantasists and idealists would have you believe. A 2026 World Cup bid aside, a domestic league is the only way to grow the game here and have a decent place for young Canadian talent to play and develop when they're not good enough to be part of the Whitecaps, TFC or Impact set-ups. As far as Lenarduzzi is concerned, going for such a top tier league right now is not the correct way to go. "As far as a domestic league goes, we have a USL team," Lenarduzzi said. "We have teams below our MLS teams that are developing players and, in all three [MLS club] cases, the majority of players that are playing in those teams are young Canadian players. "So if we're talking about the short term and the lack of MLS players on the Canadian roster, that's unfortunately a short term view because it's not going to happen overnight. It takes time to develop players. "So in terms of four and eight year cycles, I think the next one you'll see some of the players from the Canadian teams as part of that national team that are currently trying to qualify. The next cycle, my hope is that if we're all doing our jobs properly that there's going to be more players to pick from. "As far as the Canadian league option goes, I don't think there's a real need for it quite frankly." You can picture the pitchforks being readied in some circles already! But he is correct. A D1 league does not instantly make these players world beaters overnight. Neither does playing against players of a similar ilk. They need to be challenged by top talent and be exposed to CONCACAF players and their style to succeed at international level. A D2 or D3 tier development league, in addition to the existing NASL and USL clubs would seem to be the more realistic way to go. Even having Edmonton and Ottawa moving to this new Canadian league would make sense and run it as a tier below MLS. And talking of the USL sides, the initial rumblings around the new Canadian league seem to indicate that the CSA want to have teams in the three big markets of Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.Support and sustainability-wise, Vancouver would struggle to support a new side as far as we're concerned, so could there be pressure or a mandate from the CSA to force the 'Caps to move their USL team to a new Canadian league? "That's probably a question that you should ask the CSA," Whitecaps Vice President of Soccer Operations Greg Anderson told us. "But I don't think it's something that they can mandate. We've had sanctioning of our USL team and I'm sure it's something that we could work through with the CSA if they wanted to take that step to start the league." While many would have you believe that the CSA are unhappy with the Whitecaps for their perceived lack of commitment to the Canadian program, the relationship between the two parties is in fact strong. "I think it's good," Lenarduzzi said. "From our perspective, as a club, and the three MLS clubs, someone has to develop the players and you're not just going to snap your fingers and have development emerge overnight. "So there needs to be a patience there. We're all relatively new at it, but I do think over time, there will be the fruits of the labour that will start to be clear. Russell Teibert is a great example of that. Sam Adekugbe is another example of that." You can also add in the likes of Kianz Froese, Marco Bustos, and others, who are just going to get stronger as the years go on and undoubtedly play their part for both the 'Caps and Canada. The Whitecaps are more than doing their bit for the development of Canadian soccer. Don't let the naysayers tell you otherwise.
  3. The game got off to the best possible start for the young 'Caps when Cole Morokhovich headed home Daniel Sagno's cross just over a minute in. It looked like the scene was set for a joyous and historic night up on the mountain at SFU and the Whitecaps went for the killer second. Despite numerous chances, with Terran Campbell having a dipping long range effort tipped over the bar midway through the half, and several goalmouth scrambles, that second goal didn't come and the 'Caps were soon made to rue those missed opportunities. While Vancouver dominated the first half, Georgia United came out all guns blazing to start the second and thought they'd got back on levels terms four minutes in when USSDA leading scorer, the 32 goal Patrick Okonkwo, powerfully headed home a free kick but was called offside. But the 'Caps didn't learn from their slack defensive play and were soon punished seconds later when the outstanding Andrew Carleton, who just turned 15 in June, curled home a low cross to tie things up. Vancouver nearly restored their lead when Campbell went on a strong run and flashed a shot just past the left post in the 54th minute and it was those fine lines that Carl Robinson always talks about as Georgia went up the pitch and scored. It was Carleton again, this time brilliantly curling a free kick around the wall and perfectly placing it into the bottom right corner of the net. Quite the turnaround but it only served to spur the Vancouver players on in front of the large crowd and Michael Baldisimo tied things up again with then minutes remaining, coolly slotting home a Kadin Chung cross that came through to him at the back post. 2-2 and very much game on. That goal set up a grandstand finish, with both goalkeepers needing to be in top form. Georgia pushed hard to finish it in normal time and Frazer Poulter was lucky to see his attempted clearance head goalbound but tipped around the post from under the crossbar by Luciano Trasolini. The 'Caps keeper was called into action again moments later when another Carleton free kick looked to be heading in before Trasolini tipped it on to the cross bar and Poulter cleared the headed rebound off the goalline. Vancouver were on the rack and Trasolini stood tall again to tip another dipping Carleton effort on to the bar, this time a long range deflected one from just inside the 'Caps half. But the 'Caps had the final chance of normal time when Campbell saw his effort cleared off the line and we were heading to two ten minute periods of extra time where first Nicolas Apostal and then Noah Verhoeven had chances to win it for Vancouver in the closing moments, but found Georgia keeper Samuel Morton in fantastic form. And I still feel the Caps should have got a penalty in the first half of extra time! So it came to penalties. Midfielder Munir Saleh (pictured below), who had been excellent throughout, stepped up first but saw Morton save his kick. The next nine were all buried, perfectly placed as well, and Georgia advanced 5-4 on pens to face New York Red Bulls in the semi-final in Carson California this coming Thursday. A truly heartbreaking end and Wednesday's loss will still sting for the losing 'Caps and hurt like hell these many hours later. But they should be proud of the performance they put in, the season they had and what lies ahead for them. Carl Robinson was there to offer some words of encouragement to the team at the final whistle, but just what do you say a group of young guys to pick them up after a game like that where they left everything out on the pitch? "I said to them football's happens like that," Robinson told AFTN. "Sometimes decisions are made by the gentleman up above that you don't agree with and it's important you learn from these occasions and these times and these moments. "But more importantly they had all their loved ones in the crowd supporting them. I said to them when I'm finished talking go over there and give them a hug because they're the ones that will be there for you through thick and thin, whether things go well or not. "And I said, they should be proud of themselves because they did everything to win the game. Unfortunately the penalty shoot-out, as we found out last year in the Amway Cup when Toronto beat us at home, they didn't deserve to beat us, they did, it happens. But it's how you grow as a player from that." And although it may not feel like it right now, this game will be a great moment of growth for all of the players and teach them some valuable lessons in their development. Might all sound a bit clichéd but it is true. The loss should hit home hard the need to take their chances for one. The 'Caps could have been out of sight by half time. It'll also let some players know where they are compared to their peers and what they need to work on over the summer. It was a great team effort, but there were some fantastic individual performances in there, all of which should be used as a springboard to further develop their games. Robinson agrees. "Some fantastic performances from some of the individuals," Robinson told us. "I went round and I spoke to some of the individuals because I felt they deserved the respect of me speaking to them as a group but also individually. "Kadin Chung and Tommy Gardner were absolutely fantastic. Munir, who missed the penalty, tough moment for him, but he'll come strong. He was the best midfielder on the park for me, without a doubt. We've got some great young talent, great young Canadian talent, coming through." Little comfort to Vancouver but they lost to a very good Georgia side with some really strong talent. Morton was a different maker in goal and was solid throughout, keeping his team in the game in the first half. It was clear to see why Okonkwo had hit so many goals this season. He looked a player mature above his years and it's no wonder he's picked up a full ride scholarship from my eavesdropping in on relation's conversations! Then what can you say about Carleton? The Man of the Match, two great goals, couple of other close calls and coolly tucked away the winning penalty. He's already been capped by the US at youth level and certainly seems to be one to watch. I wonder if Robbo managed to stick some discovery rights on him! Georgia were delighted by their win, as they should be. Celebrating three times on the pitch in front of the shattered 'Caps was perhaps a bit excessive (once at the final whistle and two rounds of Olés), but it's what I would have hoped the Caps would have done if they had won down there. And if they wouldn't have (too un-Canadian?) then they need to add that side to their game if they want to make it. We need players that have that niggle to rub victory and success into the faces of those who they have beaten. Nice guys don't win in this game, you need that ruthless streak. That they also need to learn. If I was U16 head coach and U18 head coach Rich Fagan, I would use those celebrations to spur the guys on come the new season starting in September. Take this picture below: Print it off, pin it up in the dressing room and remind the guys how they felt with the defeat last season. Remind them how bad it was to see Georgia celebrate winning on their turf and tell them to make sure they don't have that feeling again come next year's playoffs. You grow and develop by using such failures and low points to take you to that next level. It can sometimes be the best motivation going. So what about the future? Well the Residency program certainly appears to be in great shape. This U16s group is likely the one that will produce the next crop of homegrown talent to join the MLS and USL squads. Half the group will move up to the U18 level next season. They've all got another two or three years of development at youth level ahead of them but if they continue to develop and fulfill their potential, you can see a number of the players making the next jump when they graduate from the Residency program. The Whitecaps have the highest number of homegrown signings on their roster in all of MLS (eight and counting). The latest additions of Marco Bustos and Kianz Froese are blazing a trail for this current group of young talent. Then you have all the homegrown guys on the USL roster as well. It was great to see so many former homegrown players, and other MLS first teamers, in attendance on Wednesday night in a crowd of several hundred. It lets the young players know that this is a Club. A Club with a pathway from the first team all the way down to the pre-Residency teams. The path is set now for the players in the Residency. They have something to clearly aspire to and that is one of the most pleasing aspects of the Whitecaps for Robinson right now. "We've created a clear pathway now, which is the hardest thing to do because sometimes clubs are disjointed and they don't have that pathway to create for young players to easily transition through from the Residency to USL to the first team," Robinson told us. "My job, 18 months ago, was to try and create a pathway and I think I've done that by playing the guys in the first team. "Creating a pathway with the USL, the club have been fantastic giving us support with the USL team, which is an important part of their development and we've got great young talent coming through the Under 16s and 18s now. There certainly is and it's not just here in Vancouver. The Whitecaps have set up a string of academies recently on Vancouver Island and throughout other parts of British Columbia, expanding into their development territories in Saskatchewan and Manitoba and soon to be western Ontario if reports are to be believed. It's a great investment from the club and one which will just add to the Residency talent in years to come, but Robinson doesn't want to rest on his laurels and stop there. "I want to go a step further and I want to try and identify these guys as 11, 12 and 13-year-olds," Robinson added. "We don't want to miss any talent because if we do, we're not doing our jobs correctly. So it's a lot of work, a lot of miles, a lot of conversations but it's definitely worthwhile because if you look at the bigger picture, we want to find the best Canadians. "It'll happen over a period of time. It's not going to happen overnight and it's a process. We've got the first steps in the correct order with our process. Now we've got to go and find more players and find the best players because we don't just want standard players, we want the top players, because there are top players out in Canada, without a doubt."
  4. Wirth graduated from the Whitecaps Residency program last summer, having joined the program in 2011. With many USSDA and PDL games now behind him, he headed to Oregon State University. Initially sharing starts in his rookie year with Junior keeper Matt Bersano, Wirth played five games, four of them starts. Despite winning three games, allowing just three goals and keeping two clean sheets, the Beavers coach decided to stick with the more experienced Bersano for the remainder of the season. It's hard to knock that decision as the Beavers made it to the postseason for the first time since 2003 but with Wirth used to splitting time with the Residency teams these past few years, and seeing regular gametime, being completely kept on the bench for the remainder of the season must have been a bit of an adjustment. Still, that's the life of college soccer, so onwards and upwards. Bersano has now moved on from Oregon, turning down a pro contract with RSL's USL side Real Monarchs to go to grad school at Penn State. His departure will hopefully open more doors and opportunities for Wirth with the Beavers in his sophomore season. He has a great chance to establish himself now as Oregon's number one keeper and the signs during OSU's spring schedule seemed to indicate he would be. "I'm looking very positive for that looking ahead," Wirth told AFTN recently. "Hopefully I'm going to be the guy and we can make it to the tournament again." With just 405 minutes of action logged last year at Oregon, Wirth made the decision to keep himself busy, fit and sharp during the college offseason by heading back to play some PDL this summer. With the Caps U23's team no more, Wirth has headed east to join Calgary Foothills in their inaugural PDL season, where he's splitting the goalkeeping duties with fellow Whitecaps Residency alumni, Sean Melvin. There's a couple of other Caps connections too, with Residency graduate Tim Hickson and Sam Adekugbe's brother Elijah also on the Foothills roster. When we spoke with Nolan a couple of months ago, the original plan was to play with Vancouver Victory in Washington's Evergreen League, but he's made one appearance for Calgary so far, in last Sunday's 2-2 draw with Washington Crossfire. "It's just to get some more game time," Wirth told us back in March. "But in the summer I will be training with the Whitecaps again and then going whenever I'm able to get some time in, just for game time." Wirth was recently back in Vancouver, playing in goal for the Beavers in March's friendly between OSU and WFC2. Oregon were on the wrong end of a 3-2 defeat that day but for Wirth, it was just nice to be back and catch up with some old friends. "It felt good," he told us. "It felt good to come back to where I started. I obviously know a handful of the guys on the WFC2 team, so that always just gets me riled up to play because you want to play against your friends that you grew up with." And a lot of those friends have also been his teammates on the Canadian national team these past few years. Wirth was one of nine Whitecaps Residency products on Canada's 20-man roster for the 2015 CONCACAF U-20 Championship in Jamaica in January. Canada may not have had much success in what were the qualifiers for the recent U-20 World Cup in New Zealand, crashing out in the group stages after a strong start, but on a personal level, the tournament was a success for Wirth, who got the nod over his fellow Residency alumni Marco Carducci in three of the five group games. As disappointing as the tournament was, Wirth feels that the Canadian team can still take positives from it. "I felt that there were lots of lessons that we all took from the whole tournament. I feel it was just a building point and everybody needs to look forward from that." It certainly feels like too talented a group not to go on and do well for the national team at the next level these coming years. As for Wirth's plans for his own footballing future, with the Whitecaps maintaining his MLS right and with the new pro pathway of WFC2 in USL, is that enough to see him come out of college early? That's a decision still yet to be made. "I'm kind of just taking it year by year," he told us. "I'm going to keep that bridge with the Whitecaps and keep all my options open."
  5. "I've been in Vancouver probably eight, nine years now," Day told AFTN. "So my history with the club is that I was kind of with the Residency before then I moved away to take another job then upon coming back I was kind of in and round the club and the PDL group last year, and working with Niall [Thomson] and Steve Meadley last year. "It's just kind of dovetailed since then, coming back into the Residency, but it's where I wanted to be. I've wanted to be involved for a long time and lots of discussion with the club." Englishman Day headed back to Vancouver with nearly 13 years of coaching experience under his belt. After spending close to five years as a staff coach with Charlton Athletic Community Trust, Day first came to Canada, and British Columbia, in April 2008 where he took up the role of head coach with Quest University in Squamish for nearly three years. During his final year at Quest, Day also took on the role of Staff Coach with the Whitecaps Residency program for the first time and was head coach of the Youth Prospects sides before moving on to the much sunnier climes of Greece to become the Elite Academy Director with Arsenal FC's first Greek academy in Loutraki. Nice work if you can get! After a couple of years in Greece, Day returned to BC where apart from being a staff coach with 'Caps PDL side last season, he has been head coach of Surrey United's U17 boys and U16 girls teams, technical consultant with West Coast FC and an assistant coach with the Whitecaps Girls Elite Regional Excel Centre program. It's interesting, but not unusual over here, to find a coach that has taken charge of both boys and girls sides, but Day feels what he's learned from his involvement in the women's game has been nothing but beneficial to his own development and in what he can bring to the 'Caps U16s. "As far as coaching the girls sides, it's only as long as I've been in this country I've done it to be honest," Day told us. "I've enjoyed it. I think some coaches are scared of coaching on the female side, but I can say from first hand that there's a lot of things you can learn coaching on the female side that are very useful to use on the male side. "So this has all not been new to me. I've coached professional athletes before at the Junior level, so just really excited to be here and enjoying every minute of it." Day's wealth of previous experience and his existing knowledge of the Whitecaps Residency program certainly set him in good stead for his appointment and allowed for a smooth progression once in situ. "It's been good," Day told us. "Like you say, I've been in and around the club for quite a few years now, so as far as the transitional period goes, it's probably one of the easiest ones that's going to be there. I'm sure that was factor in bringing me into the club. "It's a good group, well it's better than that, it's an excellent group. I think the mandate for me was to try and continue on the work that has been done in the past and try and improve it leading into the playoffs and not really try to change too much. It's a group that's expected to do well and I think part of my job has just been to carry that on." And carry it on he has. The 'Caps U16's finished the season unbeaten in their last five games, winning four of them, as they wrapped up the Northwest Division of the West Conference for the second straight year. They've continued that into the playoffs, winning their first group match on Tuesday 6-1 against Concorde Fire and look to be a good bet to make the quarter-finals once again and hopefully beyond. The players have played a big part in the smooth transition. The current U16 set-up is like a well-oiled machine and plays as a very cohesive unit. The 2012/13 USSDA season had been a tough one for the U16s but one of what can now be seen to be a huge benefit. The 'Caps fielded a very young squad, with a lot of U15s and even U14s seeing gametime. The thinking behind it was to keep a core group together for more than just the two seasons. Grow them together and develop a chemistry and understanding that would reap the benefits on the pitch. The U16s performances for these past two seasons have proved that plan to be a huge success and the chemistry that exists within the squad has made it easy for whoever comes in as head coach. "Yeah it has," Day admitted. "It always happens that way. Part of our job, of course, is to push players up and a lot of the guys have been with Rich in the Under-18s this year. We made a conscious decision to bring those guys back, well predominantly most of those guys back, for the playoffs. "When you're looking for cohesion in the team, the more the players have played with one another and trained with one another, it just becomes more natural to them. It's a very fluid group and we expect that to be a bonus and a strength for us going in to the playoffs." Another big boost for the U16s in this year's playoffs is the ability to draw on last year's experiences. A number of the squad were part of the 'Caps side that won their playoff group last year and advanced to a narrow quarter-final loss. Heartache and disappointment build character for sure and just makes a player hungrier to get that success. With a mix of returnees and new faces to the U16 squad, that experienced from last year will be important to draw upon this week and beyond in the playoffs. "I think it has to be," Day said. "Everyone's got those nerves going in to it, but the more players you've got that have been there and done it, it can just kind of put the other guys at ease. Those experienced players will know the standard, will know what to expect. There's trials and tribulations that are there with the weather, stop-start intervals and all that kind of stuff. We're going to need that experience for the younger players this week to really sort of kick us on. "But at the same time, you've got to also gain that experience by doing it. That doesn't mean that because you're a first year going in to this tournament that you're going to be inexperienced, it's just part of your development and learning. But we see it as a benefit and hopefully that will be proven this week." As we mentioned in our piece on 'Caps U18 head coach Rich Fagan yesterday, all the players within the Whitecaps Residency at the moment now have a clear pathway from the pre-Residency groups all the way up the MLS first team. The WFC2 USL side was that vital missing link and having that team now, and seeing the likes of Jackson Farmer, Jordan Haynes and Mitch Piraux come all the way through the 'Caps youth ranks and into that squad, has given a boost and a generated a buzz for Day's U16 group. "Absolutely," Day told us. "You talk about my involvement with the club over the years and I've watched that grow as well. There is now that serious pathway from being a pre-Residency to making the first team. That wasn't always the case and since I've been here, that wasn't always the case. But now it is there and now it's genuine for these players to believe that they can be a professional footballer. "The USL team in it's own right is a professional team, that plays in a very good, competitive league and that's a good standard. Now, of course, the objective is MLS, but I think it's just opened a lot more doors for many players and they can now see that pathway a lot clearer than they did maybe two or three years ago." And with the talent in the current U16 set-up only likely to get stronger with a further two or three years development in the Residency program, you have to think that there's certainly a few of the current crop who will follow that pathway under Day and Fagan in the coming seasons.
  6. It's been a relatively good season for both the Whitecaps U16s and U18s. Strange to say just relatively when both teams have qualified for the playoffs? Well after the way it started, especially for the U18s, it looked like it was going to be a romp! Instead a lot of squad upheaval and some key departures from the program hit the 'Caps hard and it took them a few games to recover, regroup and find out where the goals were to come from once again. The Under 18s started the season in amazing form. They were unbeaten with 11 straight wins to kick off the 2014/15 campaign, banging in 43 goals in the process, including an 8-0 victory over Nomads SC. Hat-tricks were the order of the day with Marco Bustos bagging a few and Dario Zanatta joining in the fun. Bustos, who was captain of the squad, scored 16 goals in his 12 appearances for the U18s before the Caps management decided that his time and development would be served better training full-time with the MLS squad that he would be joining in January. The 'Caps considered allowing Bustos to fly down to join the guys for the playoffs to aid his recovery from injury and boost the team but some last minute niggles look to have prevented that. Losing Bustos was a big loss to the team but it provided the chance for others to step up and Zanatta took on that role before he decided to leave the 'Caps and the Residency program to explore opportunities overseas in February. Losing those two key players left a void, along with losing Kianz Froese, who was now with the MLS squad too, and some others who departed for non-footballing reasons. The 'Caps struggled at first. There were a lot of draws and the goals dried up a little, before the team started to hit their stride again and finished the season with three wins out of their last four games. The U18s dip in form saw them go from the number one ranked team in all of the USSDA to finishing 4th in a very strong Northwest Division of the Western Conference, ending the season with a record of 19 wins, 8 draws and 5 defeats, for a Point Per Game record of 2.03. To give you an idea of how tight the Division was, the second and third placed teams have a PPG of 2.06 and the 'Caps record gave them the 13th best record throughout the USSDA. But a wildcard place it was and that obviously meant the possibility of being drawn in alongside some of the top Academy teams. As it ended up, the 'Caps were drawn into Group A and kick off their playoff bid on Tuesday morning. They've been draw into a tough group alongside fellow MLS academy DC United, Shattuck-Saint Mary's and Oakwood Soccer Club. The good news for the 'Caps though is that none of their opponents won their Division. First up is Minnesota side Shattuck-Saint Mary's at 7am PT on Tuesday. The Faribault based side just missed out on top spot in the Mid-America Division of the Central Conference by 0.04 in the PPG stakes to Chicago Fire U18s. Draws were their downfall, with 11 on the season compared to just the three losses, but that was good enough to see them ranked 16th in the playoffs. With 59 goals scored and 33 conceded, the 'Caps will fancy their chances of getting off to a good start, but U18 coach Rich Fagan knows the excellent reputation of Shattuck-Saint Mary's in years gone by. "Shattucks have a really good pedigree and a really good history of always being kind of around that top 16 of the USSDA," Fagan told AFTN. "We play them first and I imagine that will be a really difficult game for us." A tough start and there's no rest for the U18s either, who are back in action at 7am PT the next day when they take on Oakwood Soccer Club. Oakwood play out of Portland, Connecticut (who knew?!) and finished 3rd in the Northeast Division of the East Conference behind winners Montreal Impact. Their 10-8-8 record saw them finish with a 1.46 PPG and despite their ranking of 21 in the playoff pool, look to be the easiest opposition for the 'Caps this week. "Oakwood, who we'll play in our second game, I really don't know too much about," Fagan admitted. "We've never faced them before. On paper it maybe looks like an easier division, but again, don't really know too much at this point about them." Hopefully the 'Caps will have six points in the bag by the end of that one, with fellow MLS academy DC United the opponents in their final group game at 6am PT on Friday. DC finished runners-up to the talented New York Red Bulls U18s in the Atlantic Division of the East Conference. They're ranked 8th in the Playoff Pool and finished the season with a 18-6-2 record and 2.15 PPG. With 82 goals scored and 38 conceded from their 26 matches, 22 goal Eryk Williamson looks to be their big attacking danger. "DC United play in probably one of the toughest divisions in the entire USSDA," Fagan told us. "They finished in second place behind the Red Bulls, who we've played three times in the last four years. It's always our toughest match. They're always our toughest opponents and it's always been close games between those two. "I don't want to say that that'll be the toughest game, but I imagine it will be one of the hardest of the three." It'll certainly be a challenge for the U18s. There's no doubting their defensive strength but can they do enough in attack to break down these teams? We'll soon find out but there is definitely a confident air amongst the group. The same can be said for the U16s, who made it back to back Northwest Division championships after a dominant season that sees them seeded 7th in the playoffs. The upheaval in the U18s meant a lot of players had to make the step up early this season to play at the higher level, but it just shows the depth of talent coming through the Whitecaps Residency system right now that despite missing those players, those remaining and those who were brought in stepped up and continued to strong play of the U16s all season long. The team finished the season with 20 wins, 7 draws and just 5 losses from their 32 matches, with a PPG record of 2.09. With 79 goals scored and only 34 against, the 'Caps were a scoring powerhouse, with Daniel Sagno (16 goals), Amanda Glorie (13) and Terran Campbell (11), leading the way. They recorded two 7-0 victories, one against Colorado Rush at home in November and away to Santa Cruz Breakers in May. The 'Caps U16s ended the season with four clean sheets in their final five matches and are heading into the playoffs looking to follow up on their group win at this stage last year. The U16s also kick off their playoff campaign on Tuesday, this time at the rather more toasty 1.30pm PT (which is 4.30pm local time). That in itself will be tough, but a number of the 'Caps players on both squads have played down there before and they were all training in Burnaby playing with jackets on in the hot temperatures we've had here the past few weeks, followed by saunas! First up for the U16's is Atlanta side Concorde Fire. The Fire didn't initially qualify for the playoffs after finishing 7th in the Southeast Division of the East Conference and one place outside the wildcard pool. But they're in now! How? No idea. Can't find it anywhere! Concorde finished the season 16-12-8, scoring 66 goals and conceding 64. They shouldn't pose too much of a problem for the freescoring 'Caps. Once the Fire have been extinguished, the 'Caps are out for some revenge on Wednesday when they face Chicago Magic PSG, again at 1.30pm PT. The Magic beat the 'Caps U16s 2-1 at the quarter-final stage last season, in a controversial home match for Vancouver that had to be played south of the border in Bellingham due to passport issues for the Chicago side and featured some dodgy refereeing calls. Chicago Magic finished 4th in the Mid-America Division of the Central Conference this season with a 12-6-9 record and 42 goals for and 32 against. That sees them as the 5th wildcard team, so the 'Caps are favourites to get that revenge. The final group game is on Friday at 8.15am, so at least they'll have it a bit cooler when they take on Arsenal. The Californian Gunners finished runners up to the LA Galaxy in the Southwest Division of the West Conference with a 21-12-6 record. The Norco based side banged in 57 goals and conceded 34, ending up with 15th placed ranking in the playoff mix. The 'Caps already know the danger that Arsenal can be, with the Californians serving up the 'Caps first defeat of the season in October and that 1-0 away loss was to be the only match the U16's lost in their first 14 games. On paper, the U16's look to have a fairly easy group. But as we've said numerous times before, football's played on grass (or turf!) and not paper. You don't want to take anything for granted but at the same time, this group of players should have the self-confidence and belief that they have what it takes to advance to the quarter-finals for the second year running. "I think we have to stress that to the players," U16 head coach Adam Day told AFTN. "There's always anxiety and nerves and excitement going in to it, but we have to try and eliminate that and really look at the black and white facts. "We are the best team in the group and we're the best team for a reason. We have to believe in all the hard work we've done on and off the field and really go there and make a statement and send a message to everybody else." But Day stressed that there's a difference between going into the playoffs in confident mood and take any team for granted. "We're under no illusions," he continued. "We're not going to take anybody lightly because anything can happen over the course of 90 minutes, but we should feel confident in what we do because we feel we're one of the best, if not THE best, in North America and it's down to us to prove it. That's not a pressure to the guys, it's a reality of what we expect from them." And those expectations of just how well the Whitecaps teams will do in this year's Academy playoffs runs high throughout the club. Watching the week play out with much interest from afar, with be the Whitecaps' MLS coach Carl Robinson. Robinson has always shown a lot of interest in the 'Caps Residency program since coming to Vancouver as assistant coach in 2012. You'd expect nothing less, of course, from a coach who loves to play and develop young players. So how does he view the chances of both sides this time around, and just what would it mean to the club for one or both of them to come home with the Championship trophy in July? "It's very important," Robinson told AFTN. "I sat down with the parents of the 14s, 16s and 18s on Tuesday night to discuss the progress of the club moving forward. We talk about young players being given opportunities and I said to them I can stand here and say we will give your son a chance and if I never played young players in my first team then they'd probably look straight through me. "I said the proof is in the pudding and the pudding is right there in front of us in that we've got homegrown Residency players in our first team MLS squad. We don't need to say it, we're showing it and we're doing it and we want your son, providing he's ready, to be the next one to come through." "The Academy finals are huge. It sets a marker for us. I firmly believe that we can go and do very well there. I believe we can go and win it. Why not? Because in any tournament you enter you want to go on and win. But it will show the strength of the program because if we want to attract the best young players, we've got to show we're playing young players but we've got to show we're successful as well. It's a great stepping stone for us if we can go on and win it."
  7. AFTN will continue to bring you wall to wall Whitecaps coverage on both sites but we also aim to ramp up our coverage of the local soccer scene in BC and across Canada. We feel we've become the go to place for 'Caps Residency coverage over the years and we intend to be that for the new USL team now too (watch for some interviews coming next week). So why launch our own site? Well it gives us more scope to add new features and to split up the coverage of all the Whitecaps teams, from Residency up to MLS, without clogging up CSN any more than we already do! This way if you want the latest USL stuff, you can find it with one click. We'll also be running some different pieces there like cartoons, competitions and more of a humourous fanzine-style element (read abuse!), taking us back to our roots in Scotland in 1989. The new site should also be more user friendly in terms of the comments section, social sharing and usability on mobiles and tablets and it gives us complete control over the tech site and the ability to add new stuff much easier such as team profiles, podcast players and twitter feeds. This is version 1.0 and will change over the course of the year. We also plan to launch a very comprehensive Whitecaps history section similar to what we have on our Scottish site for East Fife FC (see HERE if you're interested and excuse the outdated nature of the site which will be going through a summer revamp).,br> So check out aftn.ca and, again, if there's anything you want to see in particular, let us know there or below and we'll see what we can do. And thanks for reading and listening to us here in Canada these past six years. We've a lot more to come!
  8. This article is now located in full at AFTN's standalone site, http://aftn.ca/canadian-u18-international-dario-zanatta-leaves-whitecaps-to-explore-opportunities-in-europe-i-didnt-want-to-miss-out-on-the-opportunities-i-have-now/
  9. McKendry's Junior NCAA season with New Mexico Lobos had caught the eye of several scouts. He was being rated highly and looking MLS ready. The midfielder loved his time in Albuquerque, but from a solely footballing perspective the time to make the move to the pro ranks with the Caps was now. "Obviously it's my home city, so I know the club pretty well, and that kind of made the decision a whole lot easier," McKendry told us. "If it was another club or another country it would be kind of a harder decision because I don't know exactly what I'm going in to. "The big part for me was coach Carl welcoming me back over the years and bringing me back to train and making me feel that I was part of this club, which was huge, so that made it easy." Robinson wanted to add some more midfield depth, with one eye on the 'Caps new USL PRO team, and after looking at what other options were around in the MLS draft, it became clear to him that McKendry was the man he wanted and he decided to pull the trigger now and offer McKendry a MLS contract. "I watched a lot of Benny last year and he done very well," Robinson said. "You hear all these reports coming out about him, that's he's a top ten player in the draft, and things like that. Well he was the previous year, I knew he was. I just think the timing was right [now]. "Ben had obviously made it known that he was ready to have a crack at the MLS level, which was always good because you wonder what players sometimes think. Once he made that known, we done our due diligence on the draft and we thought there were some talented midfield players in there, but they weren't better than Ben. I'm not going to produce another stopgap or block another pathway for my homegrown players. "We made a decision on draft day that we wanted to try and sign Ben to a homegrown contract and it's worked out great for us and great for him. I spoke to his dad and he's very happy. I do have to thank the New Mexico guys for part of his development as they've been crucial in that as well." The timing was perfect for the Residency alumni, who had been weighing up whether he should make the move to the pro ranks now or finish his degree. It didn't take too much deliberating. He would put his studies on hold and head back to Vancouver with a professional contract. "You obviously have to bring out the pros and cons of staying at school for another year," McKendry acknowledged. "Maybe entering the draft or coming back to Vancouver after my senior year. I feel comfortable here. Having the coaching staff, the city, my family here, made it a really easily decision. And obviously the USL. They have a USL team, that's huge. So I know I'm going to get minutes, matter level it is." Having that new USL PRO team, and the opportunities it will afford the Whitecaps burgeoning array of young talent, was a big persuader in McKendry making the decision to leave college early. "I think that was a huge part of it," McKendry admits. "A lot of college guys go into this environment and struggle because they don't get the minutes they want but are obviously extremely talented players. So the USL team is huge for me but obviously none of us young guys are shooting for USL, we want to keep moving up, but USL is fantastic for the young guys." With the likes of Matias Laba, Gershon Koffie and Russell Teibert ahead of him in the midfield depth charts on the MLS roster just now, McKendry knows that he will mostly see a lot of minutes with that USL PRO side this season. But situations can change quickly in football. So can form and injuries. McKendry also knows that he is coming to a club and playing under a manager that likes to give the younger players chances and opportunities in first team action. "Carl's big on playing young players. For a guy like me that's a bonus and that excites me cos I know I'm going to get the opportunities to play, which is huge. "There's going to be plenty of opportunities. It's just about taking it. Obviously I've got to train hard every day, at preseason and all those things. It's just going to be about continuing to work, learning from the older guys and you just got to continue to grow." With the Whitecaps facing over 40 games this season between league and cup action, Robinson knows that he will need to use every inch of his squad depth to keep the team competitive over what will feel like a very long year. Whilst he has brought McKendry in with more of an eye to the USL PRO roster, the fact that he has rewarded the midfielder with a full MLS contract is a statement in itself. "I think at the start it will be towards USL PRO, but that's not saying he won't get MLS minutes because he's on my MLS roster," Robinson told us. "I said to him that shows what I think of him, what we think of him and it'll be down to him if he takes that opportunity or not. We've got plenty of games next year. It'll be dictated by his performances in preseason and how he does during the season." McKendry will add some midfield versatility to the 'Caps. He mostly played a central midfield role during his time with the Residency, but featured all over, including the backline. At New Mexico, he played more as a defensive midfielder. A very attack minded one. Robinson doesn't want to pigeonhole McKendry and likes the options that he adds to his squad. "With young players I don't like sticking a certain position on them because I don't think they learn to develop the key characteristics of what is needed in other positions. He can play defensive midfield, and he's very good, but he's a box to box midfield player. We need goals from midfield at certain times of the season as well, so if he can add goals to his bow then I think he'll be a great addition for us." That role suits McKendry down to the ground and he feels at home wherever he plays in the midfield. "I'm pretty comfortable with both roles really," McKendry told us. "As defensive it depends who you play alongside with. I don't have any problem going forward and making that late run into the box, to pick up a goal here or there. But if you need me to stay back and defend, I embrace that side of the position as well. "I'm a confident player. I like to get on the ball and have fun." There's still a lot of debate in soccer circles about the merits of young players, especially Canadian ones, going through the American college system. Whilst some feel it gives players valuable experience and playing time, others feel the nature of the game in NCAA can stunt development instead of progressing it. McKendry is in no doubt about the benefit going to New Mexico has been to his playing career and would recommend that path to others currently weighing up their options. "I think a lot of young players have expectations that are a little but unrealistic in terms of wanting to go pro. When kids hear about the college environment and playing college soccer, especially in the States, there's probably some negative connotations towards it. "For me it was key in my development from that age of 18 to where I am now. It was huge and there's plenty of good programs in the States. You can enjoy yourself, you can get an education. I couldn't say enough good things about at least my experience. I'm sure I've got a lot of good friends as well that would say the same thing." McKendry becomes the 8th homegrown player on the Whitecaps' current MLS roster. He's also the only one born and raised in Vancouver. Does that put any added pressure on him to perform and succeed? "I wouldn't say pressure. I don't think there should never be any pressure when you're playing a game you love. But I definitely have a sense of pride playing for Vancouver and being the only guy from Vancouver here." Settling in won't be an issue. He has his family and friends around him and his previous training spells with the first team means that he's already a well-kent face at training to many of the current squad. And all of those familiar faces make for a smooth transition for McKendry. "I know a lot of the guys, which makes it more comfortable. Also, Carl and his coaching staff do a great job of making it a welcoming environment, which isn't always the case in a professional environment. I feel comfortable and the guys have welcomed me really well." That was clear to see at his first training session as a signed pro. It also helped that while the Whitecaps training camp was just getting underway, McKendry has been in full training mode for the past couple of weeks already. "I just came off two weeks of spring training with New Mexico. In the springtime most college teams do crazy fitness things. Running up sand dunes, crazy workouts and stuff. I felt pretty good out there. It was fun" We can't wrap up our chat with Ben without throwing out that well worn cliché of the hard work starts now. It's true, it does. And the only way to push yourself into the MLS mix in this competitive environment is to shine often and improve regularly. It's the key focus for McKendry in this preseason camp and he knows what elements of his game he needs to continue to work on to get himself to that next level. "You can never be satisfied with where you're at," he told us. "Seeing the older guys on this team who are kind of getting to the end of their career, you see the workrate that they continue to put in and how they take care of their bodies. "That's key to being a professional, always wanting to get better, continuing to learn, which is nice to be able to know that as a young player and have those guys as an example to see what you need to do to get better and have a long career."
  10. Robinson told AFTN last year how highly he rated McKendry and indicated that there was a MLS contract waiting for the defensive midfielder whenever the player felt the time was right. That time is now. McKendry becomes the eighth homegrown signing on the current MLS Whitecaps roster, and the 27th player on the squad in total. As a homegrown signing, McKendry is likely to have signed a two year guaranteed deal with options and although he will get most of his minutes in USL PRO this season, he will be entrenched with the MLS squad and with the number of games facing the 'Caps this year, he is fully expected to see first team minutes. McKendry was a member of the Whitecaps' Prospects program from 2007 before officially joining the Residency program in September 2010 and was part of the highly talented 'Caps U18 side that narrowly lost the USSDA Championship game to FC Dallas in 2012. The young midfielder made 20 appearances for the 'Caps in PDL action during the 2011 and 2012 seasons, but with no MLS contract on the table, and no real pathway to help get there at that point, McKendry decided to head to college and went down the NCAA route with New Mexico Lobos. McKendry explained the thought process behind that decision when we chatted with him just over a year ago. His game has developed well with the Lobos, allowing him to make the switch from a more central midfield role to that of defensive midfielder, where he has excelled. The development of McKendry these past couple of seasons will now benefit the Whitecaps. They are getting back a talented and composed DM, but also one who has a keen attacking eye and a good finish. In his three years at New Mexico, McKendry scored 14 goals and had 5 assists in his 61 appearances and 4702 minutes of soccer, most of which came in the defensive midfield role. 106 shots in amongst those stats as well, along with a knack for grabbing game winning goals. McKendry played a key role in helping the Lobos reach the Final Four of the NCAA College Cup in 2013, scoring the decisive goal in the quarter finals against Washington Huskies to send them there in his sophomore season. Having lost a number of seniors, New Mexico struggled to follow up that success in 2014, failing to make the postseason. McKendry shone though and started to get the attention of many in the college game in the US, earning several plaudits along the way. The influential TopDrawerSoccer.com ranked McKendry 7th in the nation in the midseason player rankings, and he eventually finished 36th after the Lobo's late slump (fellow 'Caps Residency alumni, goalkeeper Callum Irving, finished 15th incidentally, and Vancouver's number one draft pick, Tim Parker, was 76th). The Whitecaps have kept close tabs on McKendry while he was down in New Mexico, with former assistant coach Paul Ritchie travelling down to see him play on several occasions in the past. Robinson is a fellow defensive midfielder and rates him highly. McKendry has regularly returned to train with the Whitecaps' MLS squad these past three seasons, keeping his homegrown eligibility intact. But with other clubs starting to show an interest in the midfielder, the Residency alumni's stock was high and he was faced with the dilemma of whether to come out of school early or complete his senior year in 2015 and join the pro ranks a year from now. A lot can happen in 12 months though. Players can get injured or see their form and their stock take a dip. Managers who rate you can move on or decide to go in a different direction in terms of role specific personnel. Coming out of school early, without finishing your degree, can hurt future job prospects if it doesn't work out in the world of soccer, but you can also finish your degree at a later time. Much to weigh up, and in the end it was a no-brainer - McKendry had to take his chance and the Whitecaps were in the perfect position to offer it to him right now. There is no doubt that the addition of a Whitecaps USL PRO team has been a key influencer for McKendry to leave college in his Junior year. Whereas other homegrown talents like Bryce Alderson and Philippe Davies have been stunted and frustrated by the lack of opportunities and key competitive development minutes, the new 'Caps team guarantees McKendry much-needed regular playing time at some level. With the first team having over 40 games this season in MLS, Canadian Championship and CONCACAF Champions League action, McKendry will feature at some stage, but as talented as he is and as highly as the 'Caps rate him, there is a lot of work ahead. McKendry is coming to a Whitecaps MLS squad that isn't exactly short on defensive midfield talent. Whereas Carl Robinson went with a regular two-man defensive shield last season in a 4-2-3-1 line-up, he is expected to go more with a 4-4-2 diamond formation this term. Matias Laba clearly has that job, with Gershon Koffie and then Russell Teibert looking to be back ups. McKendry is clearly the number one DM for the USL PRO team now and will gain valuable experience playing there at the next level up for him. Opportunities in the first team will be scant, but there will be injuries, there will be suspensions, there will be players rested and there will be games where Robinson looks to return to that two man shield. So for those that haven't seen him play, how would we rate McKendry in terms of Whitecaps prospects? Better than Bryce Alderson in the DM slot has always been my opinion of McKendry and that hasn't changed. The fact that he can bring an attacking and goalscoring threat to the defensive midfield role is a big plus, and don't forget he can also play other midfield roles. He's bringing versatility and hunger with him. It's certainly a depth and strength upgrade to what the Whitecaps had last year. Having watched a lot of his New Mexico games these past couple of years, including a couple in person, he can make a team tick. At 21, he's coming in at a great age and he's had excellent experiences and performances at USSDA, college and international levels. Now comes the next step. Robinson will give him chances to show his worth both in preseason and as the season progresses. As he's said to all his young players, they'll get their chances, it's then up to them to take them. That applies to McKendry now and we're delighted for him.
  11. Have a listen! You can listen to this, and all previous, episodes of the podcast on iTunes HERE. Or download it for your later listening delight HERE. We also have an iPhone app, so you can now add our podcast to your phone as an app. Visit the podcast's mobile site HERE and then at the bottom of the screen just click the "Quick Launch" icon and the podcast will be added to your home screen and appear as an app. And if that's not enough, we're on Stitcher Radio Network. Download the app and listen to the AFTN podcast on your device, along with over 20,000 other shows HERE. Or after all that, you could just listen on the player below!
  12. While others in MLS go down the route of bringing in big name and big money signings, to varying degrees of success, the Whitecaps have gone with a lower key and in-house development approach. Some critics accuse them of being cheap. That was an accusation surprisingly levelled by some out east following the signing of young DP Octavio Rivero last month. But if we're being honest, you're not going to get the likes of Kaka, Frank Lampard, or Steven Gerrard coming to Vancouver to play on a horrendous fake pitch week in and week out. You might not even see them coming here when their teams actually play in the city. What you will see is an array of lesser known South American talent and burgeoning homegrown talent keen to make their name in the game, and that's an approach that the Whitecaps won't be shifting from for the foreseeable future and the 'Caps approach to youth development is something that Lenarduzzi is particularly proud of. "Even prior to joining MLS, it was clear we invested a lot of money in youth development for a good three, four years in advance," Lenarduzzi told reporters at the 'Caps first media presser of the new year. "That was always our philosophy. Having said that, we also knew that we had to bring in players that were difference makers. "We decided that we want to be known as a club that develops it's own players and we've stayed the course in that regard. If you look at the U20 team and the U17s, and we have nine players on both of those teams that are either current Residency players or have been through our system and I think that speaks that it's starting to work. Now what we need to do is to get more players, like Russell Teibert, like Kianz Froese, and we need those players to be coming though on an annual basis." Producing a steady stream of quality young players is a key focus for the Whitecaps, and one which Lenarduzzi is well aware won't just help Vancouver to the success they desire, but also provide a big boost for the Canadian national team, at all age levels, in the process. "One of our goals is to try to have a conveyor belt of having players coming through our system and onto our first team," Lenarduzzi said. "But equally important, on to our national teams. We need to get back to the World Cup. "I think a lot of what will determine if that's a possibility or not is what we are doing and what Toronto are doing and what Montreal are doing, Edmonton, Ottawa, in terms of giving those players an opportunity to play and get better and vie for MLS spots and national team spots." Of the 20 players named in Rob Gale's Canadian roster for the upcoming 2015 CONCACAF U20 Championship in Jamaica, which gets underway on Saturday, nine came through the Whitecaps Residency program. Four are currently on the Whitecaps MLS squad, two others will be part of the 'Caps USL PRO squad this season and two more are currently away at college. Add in nine of the 20 members of Canada's U17 squad being part of the 'Caps Residency program at present and the footballing future is looking very bright for Vancouver, with Lenarduzzi acknowledging how far ahead the Whitecaps seem to be right now compared to their Canadian rivals in terms of youth development. "It's nice when you look at those numbers and you look at the representations from the other professional clubs, it's something at this stage that we can be proud of. But we're not going to rest on our laurels. We're going to continue to put the emphasis on development and I think as much as we want to be a club that develops players, we need for the coaching staff to play those players. "And in Carl's case, he proved that last year in the Amway Cup and probably the best example of that was not long after Kianz Froese signed a MLS contract, he's coming off the bench at half time in front of 50,000 plus people. That's when people will ideally look at it and go they're doing what they said they wanted to do. It's taken them time, but player development is all about time." And therein lies one of the key components to it all. The switch from youth football to the pro ranks and getting playing time. The Whitecaps may have six Canadians on their MLS roster, but none of them are going to be starters when the new season kicks off in March. They're not at that level yet compared to others in the squad, although Sam Adekugbe is arguably the closest. Even ahead of Russell Teibert due to squad positional depth. Lenarduzzi admits that there isn't too much point developing all this young homegrown talent if they're not going to get too many minutes on the pitch and sees that as the next step for the Whitecaps to take. "We've stayed the course and now we're starting to see the dividends from it," Lenarduzzi feels. "Ultimately, we will see the dividends from it when we have three or four or five of those guys in our first team on a regular basis but I've always suggested that development is time consuming. It takes time for players to come through and do what you want them to do at the first team level. You don't just snap your fingers and have players go from not playing to playing. We'll continue to do what we're doing. "I'd love to see Marco Bustos, Carducci, Kianz Froese coming on in MLS games, CCL games, Amway Cup games and getting the minutes that will determine if they're capable of playing at that level or not. We think they are but all we're asking for as a club from our coaching staff is if we're going to develop these players, and there's an opportunity to play them, let's play them and then find out whether they're capable or not." It's a position that Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson fully understands and is keen to remedy, but not to the detriment of both the player and a successful team on the park. "Money doesn't guarantee you success, as you've seen with a number of clubs," Robinson told reporters today. "I want to try and guarantee success but in the right way and I feel the right way is developing our own Canadian players through our Residency program. "We spent a lot of money on our Residency program. For that to come to fruition, there's nothing better for me and the club that we would like more than to develop them, play them in the first team and then maybe sell them on at a later date. That's going to be our model. We'll stick to that. We won't change our philosophy, I won't change my philosophy and we'll continue to try and strive for success." One of the crucial pieces to the development puzzle will be put in place with the 'Caps new USL PRO team. That team may be kicking off their season in a few weeks time but they don't have a head coach at the helm as it currently stands. That's a situation though that the club hope to have settled within the next fortnight. "We're still going through the process," Lenarduzzi admitted. "There are some candidates internally and as you can imagine, once people realised that we were in USL, we had a lot of resumes come from virtually all over the world." "We've narrowed the list down but we still need to do a little bit more work with the people that we have decided we'd like to interview further. Ideally we'll have a decision, by the latest, in two weeks." So, with a healthy amount of Canadians in their first team squad, some more promising ones on the horizon, a new USL PRO team set to kick off packed full of homegrown talent and providing the bulk of players for Canada's younger national teams, Vancouver Whitecaps certainly seem to be doing their bit for Canadian soccer. Could they do more? Perhaps. But they're streaks ahead of some of their rivals. But what of all those naysayers out there who like to say that the Whitecaps hate Canada and do nothing for Canadian football? "It's shocking to me, but that comes from a very small circle as far as I can gather," Lenarduzzi said. "I don't pay a lot of attention to that but whenever I hear that and I hear that we're not playing Canadian players, what I often do is turn that question back around on the person that's making those comments. "[i ask them] tell me of a player right now in Canada, that's not in our Residency program, that should be playing in our first team? And more often or not I get silence. I also believe that if you're going to make comments like that, you should also have the ability to back them up. A lot of people say it but a lot of people can't back it up and that's frustrating." Indeed it is, but ultimately, who cares? The Whitecaps will be the ones having the last laugh and the continued success.
  13. "Yeah, everything that's been happening just feels dreamy," Froese said at training on Monday. "Honestly, the night after the game, and right after the game, I just kept replaying it. The crowd, the people, the support. It's just unbelievable. "I wasn't sure I was going to [play] when I went. I just went on the field and tried to enjoy every moment of it, watching everybody and everything. It was great." A whirlwind for sure, but how much of those 45 minutes on the pitch (52 I guess with all the stoppage time!) did Kianz get to enjoy and savour, or did it all just fly by? "No, it flew by, like a lot of the stuff that happened in it. I remember some of it and some I don't. It's tough. It feels blurry now. I don't remember much." He might not recall much of the action, but all he needs to know is that he didn't look one inch out of place out there. He was involved, he showed some nice footwork out wide and caused Seattle's defence some problems. Carl Robinson described him after the game as having "no fear" and Froese wasn't afraid to put himself about a bit, with a couple of crunching tackles soon settling him down, including a nice one that sent Jalil Anibaba flying through the air. "I felt comfortable," Froese admitted. "I'm happy that Robbo believed in me to put me in, in such a big game that we needed to win. The guys were great. They talked to me and they were on me all the time, 'hey come, tuck here, tuck there' so I had extra help to go for it." Another aspect that helped was that this wasn't Froese's pro debut as such. The 18-year-old played 77 minutes for the Caps in their 2-1 loss in Toronto in their Canadian Championship semi-final first leg match-up. That experience, along with playing for Canada at last year's U17 World Cup in the UAE, certainly gave Froese a good grounding and appetite for more. "It gave me a taste of where I wanted to be," Froese told us. "Now that I see it, I know where I want to be playing week in, week out. But I need to continue to work hard on tons of stuff so that I can progress into playing more often." There's been talk that the Caps might send Froese, Marco Bustos and some of their other young talent over to Europe at the start of the offseason to have training stints at some top clubs and get more experience. Bryce Alderson spent time at QPR last year and it's believed that the Whitecaps have a number of options available to them. For now though, Froese still has some Residency matches coming up. The U18s have six remaining matches in the USSDA this year and Kianz will have an important part to play. The Whitecaps will also want to see how he reacts with going back to the Residency environment after first team action. It's all part of the development plan and seeing the right attitude is very important to them. It's certainly not something they have to worry about with Froese, who knows the benefit of still growing within his own age group as well as against pros. It also gives him the chance to share his experience with the rest of the Residency squad, all of whom will be eager to follow in his and Bustos' footsteps, and have already been in touch. "I've spoken to my teammates and a lot of the guys. A lot of conversations," Froese said. "It's going to be the same [going back to Residency]. Obviously that's where it all started and that's where you go to continue to get game fit and game sharpness." The Residency games also give Froese the chance to develop different aspects of his game and the U18s have seen him play as an out and out striker, a 'false nine', on the wing and as both an attacking and defensive midfielder. For Kianz, the more experience he can get in different positions, the better a player it will make him. "I think it helps me understand the game better because you have to understand everyone else's roles too," Froese told us. "It gives me more positions that I can play in too. I think it's helped me. Everything the Residency has done has just helped me in general." Which of course bodes well for all the other players coming through from the Residency in the next couple of years. It's certainly exciting times in Whitecapsland.
  14. "They're fantastic signings for the club," Robinson told reporters. "I'm absolutely delighted to get those two on board, especially now with a couple of months to go till the end of the season because it's important. It's important for them to get to grips with what it's like being a MLS professional, getting used to the environment for January when they come because it's the progression I want as the manager of the club as well as what the club want. "I think it's important for the growth of this club that we see players coming through regularly. Not just one year, every three or four years, but every year. They're added to our already talented young pool of players that we've got. I'm delighted to have them both on board." It's a delight matched by both players, as they grinned from ear to ear throughout their first media scrums as pros. So now that they've had a small amount of time for it to all sunk in, how does it feel to have signed their first pro contracts? "[Monday] was an amazing day really," Froese told us. "It's surreal to say the least. It's a dream come true but the work starts now." That was a view echoed by Bustos, although it's their hard work already in the Residency program that has seen them earn their pro deals at 18-years-old. But now that the pair have that MLS contract, neither is going to be resting on his laurels. "It's a good feeling because I've pretty much put the weight off my shoulders for how hard I've worked for the past 10, 12 months," Bustos told us. "To know that I've got myself in the team for next season is a good step for me because that then pushes me to fight for a spot on the squad. That realistically, at the end of the day, I want to be in the 18 man squad and sooner, rather than later, be in the 11 man squad." Both players have impressed at training this year and they got an initial reward back in May when they started the first leg of the Canadian Championship semi-final in Toronto. Although a spot in the second leg was deprived of them due to a Canadian national team training camp, the experience that both got in that game against TFC gave them a taste of playing for the Whitecaps first team and left them knowing they could perform at that level and wanting more. "The experience leaves me with the thought that I can be here and I could play with the squad," Bustos said. "It makes me believe that I can get in the 11 man squad and it shows me that the coaches believe in me. Whenever the coaches give me the chance to get out on the field again, then I'll hopefully take that chance and give them everything." Froese agrees and the match helped them realise that they've arrived in football and are playing with and against world class players now. "When I saw [Michael] Bradley playing in the World Cup, I was like, 'yeah, I've played against him'!," Froese joked. "Obviously it just shows that we can do it and we can hopefully play, so it just gives us confidence to go and do it when the chance comes." And Froese may be getting that chance in the very near future. With six games remaining, Robinson has no qualms about pitching the young star into the mix, whether the Whitecaps are in the heat of a playoff battle or not, and the 'Caps coach has no doubts that he's already capable of playing at MLS level. "Kianz is very much in contention," Robinson replied when asked if Froese would only play if the Caps were out of the playoffs. "We don't need to be eliminated or out of it for him to get the opportunity. I think you see today in training what he brings. "We know there's areas of his game that need a little bit more focus. I just spoke to him at length about what we're going to do in the offseason, but he's very much in the picture between now and the end of the season. And rightly so, because his performances and his training have fully deserved that. So don't be surprised if you see him soon." Signing a MLS contract is already a dream come to true for Froese, but to then play right away and have the chance to shape the club's playoff hopes is taking it to another level altogether, but one he's excited at the prospect of and ready for. "That would be unreal," Froese said. "That's my goal for right now. To hopefully get to go on a trip with the team and just be a part of the team and help in any way I can. Obviously that's earned on the field, so right now I'm just focussing on staying consistent and hopefully I get a chance." Unfortunately, Marco Bustos won't get his chance to shine this season, having only signed a pre-contract for MLS that won't kick in until January next year. It's disappointing, especially with the top form that he is in right now with the Residency, but taking the long term view, this may see him signing a Generation Adidas deal with Russell Teibert moving off his. And in light of Major League Soccer's weird roster rules at the best of times, the Whitecaps didn't want to take any chances. "As you know, with the expansion draft coming up, it's a tricky time for all MLS clubs," Robinson told us. "With the protection rule of only ten players, maybe bumping two of them up at a certain time will give the possibility of me maybe losing one or two players and I don't want to do that at this time because I'm building here. "I can get one of them on the roster, which is why I think Kianz is slightly more ready than Marco, even though Marco scored five goals on the weekend and beat six men to get his goal of the season contender." And what a goal that was. If anyone needed convincing of the talent Bustos has and what he offers the Whitecaps, they should have seen his second goal against San Juan on Sunday. It may have been at youth level but he picked the ball up 40 yards from goal and weaved his way past six players before coolly putting it away past the keeper. Has he scored a better goal than that? "I can't remember all the goals I've scored, but I think that's probably one of the best ones I've scored for the Whitecaps Residency," Bustos said. "Going through those bunch of guys and finishing was pretty cool." Bustos hit a hat-trick in Saturday's 3-2 win for the Whitecaps U18s over Seattle and followed that up with a brace against San Juan. With the minutes ticking down he had the chance to hit back to back hat-tricks, but could only look on as his shot cannoned off the left hand post. "It would have been nice to get the two hat-tricks but at the end of the day we won the game, so that's all that matters to me," Bustos told us when we ask him if he was disappointed at missing out on an impressive feat. Bustos has been given the captain's armband for the U18s this season and the attitude and knowledge sharing he has shown since training with the first team, played an important part in the decision to reward him with a MLS contract. The Whitecaps are always keen to see how the young players react when they go back into the Residency environment and Bustos' attitude has been exemplary. So how did the captaincy come about? "The two Residency coaches, Steve Meadley and Niall Thompson, had pulled me aside at the end of last season and asked me if I would take the honour of being the skipper," Bustos told us. "They talked to me a little bit about trying to build my leadership to make myself a better pro and I wanted to take the challenge. "Just to have that extra leadership skill in me and to lead by example and lead vocally, I think will make me a better player, so I wanted to take that opportunity to make myself better." He has already been leading by example, and not just with his five goals on the opening weekend, but Bustos hopes that he and his good friend, and fellow Manitoba boy, Froese can be good role models for other Canadian kids looking to make it in the pro ranks. "Knowing that me and Kianz have made it here will hopefully inspire other young kids to follow their dreams and to go forward and hopefully one day they could follow our footsteps," Bustos added. With more Residency homegrown talent on the horizon and pushing hard, I don't think he'll have to wait too long for that.
  15. Whitecaps fans have been crying out for some new striking talent and although this might not be what they had in mind, and despite their young years, both players have already shown that they have what it takes to play at a higher level. The pair started Vancouver's Canadian Championship semi-final first leg in Toronto in May and acquitted themselves well. Both also saw PDL action for the Caps' this summer, contributing six goals between them (4 for Bustos and 2 for Froese). Last year saw both players represent Canada at the FIFA U17 World Cup in the UAE, playing in all three matches. Hailing from Winnipeg in Manitoba, Bustos made the move to the Whitecaps Residency program in September 2011 from his hometown side FC Northwest, after having a trial with Liverpool as a 14-year-old. He played the 2011/12 season for the Caps U16s and started the following season with them as well before current Whitecaps assistant coach Gordon Forrest took over the reigns of the U18s and immediately moved him up a level. It paid rich dividends for the Caps, with Bustos grabbing 14 goals in the regular season before going on a tear in the playoffs with 5 goals to send them back to Finals Week. Last season Bustos led the U18s in scoring with 19 goals and is captain of the U18 side in this, his final year in the program. And as we mentioned above, he kicked off the team's new season leading by example and scoring five goals in their first two matches (two of them penalties), where he has been playing as a striker. Froese is another prairie boy. Born in Havana, Cuba but growing up in Brunkild, Manitoba, Froese joined the Whitecaps Residency program in 2012, having previously trained with FC Edmonton. He scored four goals for the U18s in the 2012/13 season and followed that up with 12 regular season goals that saw him second on the team behind Bustos. Internationally, Froese has already earned a senior call-up to the Canadian national team, playing and scoring against Fort Lauderdale Strikers in a friendly in January. Most recently he was part of Canada's U20 squad at the Milk Cup in Northern Ireland. Both players have been training regularly, and impressed, with the Whitecaps MLS team since preseason and the hope was always to have them signed at some stage this year. When we asked Carl Robinson a couple of weeks ago about the prospect of adding them before the roster freeze, he wouldn't confirm but made his preference clear. "Maybe. Maybe, yes," Robinson told AFTN. "It would be good. Another two youngsters into the fray would be nice." Now he has them, although sadly it's only Froese that is available down the stretch. Too young and inexperienced to be thrown into a MLS playoff battle? Perhaps. But one thing I know about Bustos and Froese from watching them these past couple of years is that not only do they play with a confident swagger and without fear, but they can both score goals and haven't looked out of place playing against older opposition. Remember, "if you're good enough, you're old enough", and maybe, just maybe, the Whitecaps have added two players who are actually both.
  16. Vancouver Whitecaps' Residency players are currently on a six year Canadian U17 player of the year winning streak. Russell Teibert did the double in 2008 and 2009. Bryce Alderson in 2010 and 2011 and Marco Carducci for the last two years, 2012 and 2013. All have been rewarded with MLS contracts by the Whitecaps. The next group of young players are now competing to be the next one named and one player who has catapulted his way into the conversation is Victoria, BC native Dario Zanatta. This season Zanatta, who turns 17 later this month, has scored 19 goals in 21 games for the Whitecaps, and has seen time, and the scoresheet, with both the U16 and U18 teams. I had a chance to catch up with this up and coming Whitecaps Residency player to see what his plans are in the future and how excited he would be to be the second local BC kid to suit up for the MLS Whitecaps (*Caleb Clarke got 15 minutes of MLS action in two appearances towards the end of the 2012 season, as the first and only BC born player to come through the Residency program and play for the Whitecaps in the MLS so far). AFTN: The Whitecaps have a great history with producing quality U17 players. Where do you see yourself fitting into that mix? Dario: The Whitecaps history of having players win the U17 Player of the Year award has been very good, and I would be honoured to be nominated and follow in their footsteps. But I am a different player than those before me and I am just trying to be the best player I can be. AFTN: You are off to a amazing start with the Residency this season. What area of your game do you feel you need to improve on before stepping up to the U18 set-up full time next season? Dario: The physical side of the game is something I have been working on recently, as well as dealing better with crosses. Playing the number of games that I have with the U-18's this year has been very helpful, but as a player I am always trying to work on every aspect of my game. AFTN: With the Whitecaps moving towards a younger attacking team, how excited are you at the thought of getting a chance to suit up for the team in MLS? Dario: It is a goal of mine to play professional soccer, and playing in my home province with the Whitecaps would be a great thrill, but those are decisions that aren't up to me. I would hope that over time my development gives me that opportunity. AFTN: What professional player would you compare your game to? Dario: I aspire to play like any of the top strikers in the world, but the professional player I compare my game to is Robin van Persie. AFTN: Finally, what are your soccer specific goals for the next 5 years? Dario: To sign a professional contract, to represent my country at the U20 World Cup and to earn a spot with the senior team. ** There is one more U16 home game left this season in the USSDA and it takes place this coming Saturday, May 17th at Percy Perry Stadium in Coquitlam. The U16s will kick off at 2.30pm and before that the U18s will kick off the afternoon of football at noon. Come out and make it a Residency double header and #SupportTheFuture. Follow Dario Zanatta on twitter @dario_zanatta. You can see video of Dario scoring for the Caps U16s against Portland in November below:
  17. Ben McKendry graduated from the Vancouver Whitecaps Residency in the summer of 2012. It felt at the time like the end of an era for followers of the program, with the close knit group splitting up and going their separate ways after years of playing together. After making the decision to continue his career in the college ranks, McKendry made the move to New Mexico, where the Lobos became his new family. McKendry was part of the Caps' exciting U18 side that reached the 2012 USSDA Championship game before going down to a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to Dallas. It was a team rich in talent but as is the case all over Canada at the moment, the opportunities to continue their professional development were limited. Bryce Alderson and Caleb Clarke earned MLS contracts. Ben Fisk should have but was given a PDL one and has been loaned out twice now. Others, like Daniel Stanese, have sought careers overseas. Some still had another year to go in the Residency and graduated this summer, whilst others continued their education in NCAA and CIS schools. Although much maligned by some, the college route is the only viable option for many graduating academy players, with all that getting a good education behind them does for their future career prospects outwith the game. This latter point played a big part in Ben's decision to join a talented New Mexico team. "After graduating from the Residency program I was kind of unfortunate not to get signed by the first team, which is obviously the goal of the program and all of the players in it. So I kind of had to reassess what I wanted to do with my career. "I decided that the college system was right for me. I'm extremely fortunate to be able to get an education and play soccer. I'm really happy with how things turned out." McKendry had a stellar first year in Albuquerque, scoring seven goals, four of them game winners, and contributing two assists in his 22 appearances. That goal tally placed him in the top 15 players in the country in goals by a freshman. "The first year was fantastic for me. I was fortunate enough to be part of a great team and we had a great leadership group last year that really helped me to kind of ease myself into the college system." Two of that team were selected in January's MLS SuperDraft, with Montreal picking up Blake Smith in round one and RSL getting a great late pick in Devon Sandoval in round two. McKendry picked up the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation 'Newcomer of the Year' honours and made the MPSF All-Tournament team, before the Lobos bowed out of the NCAA tournament in the third round following a 2-1 double overtime loss to Connecticut. Making the leap from U18 level to the college ranks isn't always easy, but at least the vast amount of time spent travelling the US with the Caps gave him some good experience and preparation to take with him. As has the experience he gained playing for Canada at U18 and U20 level. There have of course been differences that he's needed to adjust to, the main two being the speed of play and physicality of playing with older guys. With such a short season and the way the NCAA rankings can play out, there is also a feeling that every game is huge, with a strong must win mental approach constantly needed. It's a mentality that Lobos' 12 year head coach Jeremy Fishbein expects of all his players. McKendry's sophomore season has continued to see him develop as a midfielder, and bring more to the table in games. "This season I'm taking on more of a leadership role, which is important. I'm having a great time and really thankful to be with the team." When we caught up with Ben following a last seconds 1-0 win in Santa Barbara in September, he seemed to be playing more of a defensive midfielder role. Has that been the plan for him to play a bit deeper this year? "Last season I was more of a box to box midfielder, kinda jump into the play late to try and pick up some loose balls. Definitely tonight I was just trying to protect the back line a bit more because we know they throw lots of guys forward. I'm kind of a little bit more mobile and willing to go forward I think as well." After a bit of a slow start and finding his feet in the new role, Ben's offensive game came to the fore and he currently sits with four goals and one assist from 17 games so far this year, making the All-Conference first team. With things going well down New Mexico way is the plan for Ben to stay with the Lobos for the full four years or would he consider putting his education on hold if the right opportunity came along, whether that be from the Whitecaps or elsewhere? "Definitely. It's something you wait and see what happens. I'm happy with where I am right now but if it gets to the point where it feels like I'm ready to go into the professional environment then definitely, I make that jump. But I'm in no rush. I think I'm in a good position right now." McKendry headed back to Vancouver this summer and trained with the Caps' MLS squad. "The Whitecaps organisation has been great since I left the club. They've been emailing me and keeping tabs on how things are going. I'm extremely thankful that they've given me opportunities to come back and train with them in the summer to stay fit. "They're doing a great job with that and I think it's something they'll continue to do as more players are graduating from the Residency program and going into other environments like the college system." Ben's ultimate goal is still to make a career as a professional footballer, whether that be with the Whitecaps or wherever the game takes him. "I never really thought much about anything other than soccer, so it's kind of weird doing the school part, but I'm enjoying the school part of it as well." Although McKendry is listed on the Lobos website as studying psychology, he doesn't think that this will be what his major will end up being. "In the American college system you get two years to decide what you want to major in, so really I'm still deciding. It says psychology but I don't think that's what it'll be. Maybe business or economic or something like that." We still have hopes here at AFTN of seeing a Whitecaps midfield of McKendry, Fisk, Alderson and Alex Rowley again one day, so we'll be watching where Ben's future footballing career takes him with interest. The Lobos made the move to Conference USA for this year and won their first new Conference title with an 11-4-2 record. Their postseason gets underway on Friday when they take on Tulsa in the Conference USA semi final, with a place in the NCAA tournament first round awaiting. Good luck to Ben and good luck to Lobos.
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