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  1. 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!
  2. 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!
  3. Patience has been the key for Dean during his time in Vancouver. We've written about it before, but after being drafted third overall by the 'Caps in last year's SuperDraft, it was a tough first year for the California Golden Bears alumni, but not an unexpected one. With 123 MLS minutes logged in his rookie MLS season, Dean only made one start and four overall appearances for the Whitecaps last year. For most rookies, that's actually not the worst return, but when your college defensive partner, Steve Birnbaum, gets drafted in the spot just before you and goes on to make 21 appearances for DC United in his rookie season, you would understandably wonder what might have been had another club taken you instead of the 'Caps. But Dean found himself surrounded by a number of top centre backs in Vancouver last year and he took the opportunity to learn from the likes of Andy O'Brien and Jay DeMerit, put his head down, worked hard and improved his game with the hope of fighting for a spot this past preseason. When O'Brien and Johnny Leveron left, his hopes must have been high but the additions of three new centre backs in Pa Modou Kah, Diego Rodriguez and draft pick Parker has actually seen Dean fall down the pecking order and the depth charts. Again, a tough blow to take, but Dean knew there was no point pouting over it and the only way to improve his lot was to show Robinson and the rest of the coaching staff that he deserved to be in the frame for MLS minutes by continually producing and impressing in training and in USL action with WFC2. And he's done just that. Dean's played in eight WFC2 matches this season and has continued to show improvement and development week upon week. And it's not gone unnoticed by Robinson. "I think especially in the last two or three weeks, he's grown," Robinson told AFTN at training on Friday. "He's matured. He's looking at being a better player. The little things, he's doing a lot better now. Never underestimate the small details in defenders. We're lucky we've got five fantastic centre backs in the squad. They'll come through or they'll have their confident spurts at different times. "Christian seems to have found his rhythm at the moment playing in USL and in training. He's trained very, very well the last few games. His chance will be around the corner, without a doubt. Whether it's this Sunday or whether it's next week, he'll get his opportunity because he's not far from being ready now." All of Dean's hard work culminated in his first professional goal this past weekend against Seattle Sounders 2, a moment he described as "awesome" and building upon his first international goal for the US U23 team against Mexico earlier in the year. It's nice to get those rewards when you put the work and effort in. Building on it all is now the key. Dean's attitude has been first class. As disheartening as the additions to the 'Caps MLS squad must have been over the offseason, he again put his head down and worked to battle for a spot. And there may be some battle between Parker and Dean for their minutes on the pitch, the pair have become good friends off it, supporting and challenging each other. "Tim's probably honestly one of my best friends on the team," Dean told AFTN back in April. "We're both American, we're both coming out of college, we're both fighting for that spot. "But once one of us gets it, I think we're both going to be happy for each other that we got the opportunity and once we see the other person got it, we're going to know we can get it. So it's just going to be a fight until that times comes." It's been Parker who got that opportunity first. The rookie has made four appearances with the first team so far this season. Three of them starts and most of them coming in the right back role. Parker got his first MLS start as centre back two games ago in the win at New England. Dean was delighted for his friend and seeing Robinson be true to his word and give the younger players their chance has been a shot in the arm for him. "It makes me excited," Dean admitted to us. "Tim deserves his chance. He's been playing fantastic during training sessions and scrimmages. The guy's a professional. I'm trying to learn, even from him right now. "It's an exciting time for us young players, with Sam [Adekugbe] getting time at the beginning and Deybi [Flores] getting time and Kianz [Froese] getting time. All the young players are coming in and showing what we can do. It's an exciting time for our team." Dean is a versatile player. He's been playing two positions with the USL side this season, both centre back and left back. He's partnered Parker well when they've played together and I wouldn't have too many fears about both of them playing alongside each other in a MLS match. Of course, he's in the team to hone his skills and playing two different positions perhaps makes that a little bit harder, but he's enjoying the opportunity to work on both roles. "I'm playing two positions here, at centre back and at left back, so I'm learning each position," Dean says. "I feel that when I do get the opportunity to play with the first team I'm going to take it, whether it's left back or centre half." He's been looking particularly sharp in the left back role once he found his feet and got used to playing regularly there. It was from that position that he grabbed his first professional goal against Seattle last Sunday and he's been getting up and down the wing well. Does he have any actual preference between the two positions? "I like both right now," Dean says. "Left back's a lot of running, it's fun, keeps my fitness up. I wouldn't mind playing either." Dean looks comfortable at left back and for a player that stands 6-foot-3, he's pretty good with the ball at his feet for a big man. "I used to play striker," Dean laughs. "Then as I got older I started moving back and back and further back, and thinking I just need to keep my footwork up." His continue improvement has been noted by both Robinson and USL head coach Alan Koch. It needs to continue and it needs to be more consistent. Once that all clicks into place, Dean's not going to be too far away from seeing the pitch once again in Major League Soccer action. "Christian was very, very good [against Seattle]," Koch told us. "Getting up and down the flanks. When you have somebody like him who can play two positions, it hard for him to get into a role of being comfortable. But he played very, very well against Portland two weeks ago. I had a chat with him, I didn't think he as good, particularly in the first 20 minutes, against Orange County. He was a lot better again [on Sunday]. "Just like all the other young guys in our team, he has to find consistent performances and that's hopefully going to improve his chances of getting playing time in the first team." That time should be coming soon from what Robinson has indicated. When it does, it's then up to Dean to seize that moment. With the Whitecaps having a crazy August, playing eight games in three different tournaments, Dean will undoubtedly see some first team minutes during that spell. But he's not even thinking that far ahead and is targeting July for his first MLS minutes of the season. "Yeah, not even August," Dean told us. "I'm aiming to try and get into games this month if I can. Just showing what I've got in training sessions and everything. As a player, you always want to play and when you get the opportunity you just have to take it."
  4. The 'Caps looked a little out of sorts in the first half and T2 headed into the break with a one goal lead thanks to a long range effort from Fatawu Safiu, and although Ben McKendry nearly equalised immediately, Vancouver weren't at the races. Head coach Alan Koch gave the 'Caps the kick up the ass they needed during his half time team talk and WFC2 and they were back on level terms two minutes after the restart and captain Tyler Rosenlund grabbed his first goal of the season when he put away an Andre Lewis cross. It was a much different 'Caps side now and they deservedly went ahead in the 63rd minute when Victor Blasco and Billy Schuler combined for the third time in two games and the Spaniard curled a nice finish into the net to put WFC2 into a 2-1 lead they didn't give up. In fact, they could have added to it and McKendry could only look on as his low effort crashed off the left post and then centre back Craig Nitti tried to lob T2 keeper Justin Luthy from his own half but saw his fantastic effort crash off the crossbar. Another three points and although Koch was left happy with that, he wasn't pleased by the Jekyll and Hyde performance from his team. "Pleased with the second half, not pleased with the first half," Koch told us after the match. "I thought we were very lacklustre in the first half. I think they clearly wanted it more than we did. We were a little bit naive how we approached the first 45 minutes. Addressed a couple of things and full credit to the guys, a much, much better performance in the second half." Also pleasing was Victor Blasco's third goal in two games. We wondered if last week's strikes would now spur him on and open the gates for more and it's looking like it has, although Koch also felt the Spaniard's performance matched that of the whole team over the 90 minutes. "In the second half, yes he did [look good]," Koch told us. "I had a chat with him at half time and said the first half wasn't good enough to be honest if he wanted to build on last week. You expect him to come out firing. He didn't do it in the first 45 minutes but full credit to him, he did it in the second half. "He took another step forward in the right direction and hopefully he can keep doing the same thing." The game did have some other disappointment for Vancouver, with Brett Levis being stretchered off late on after coming off worse for wear in a 50-50 challenge. The midfielder has been having a good season for the 'Caps but left the stadium on a cart with his foot and ankle heavily bandaged up and he was unable to put any pressure on it. A big loss for the team and with Caleb Clarke and Jackson Farmer away with Canada on international duty at the Pan Am Games, the WFC2 squad is getting down to the bare bones. With a busy month coming up, how will they cope? "The same way we've dealt with it all season long," Koch added. "Obviously when we're healthy, it's great and it's nice and easy. But when you're players short it gives other guys an opportunity to step in. Caleb was gone today and Billy Schuler stepped in and put in a great 90 minutes work. "If Brett's gone for a little while it'll give somebody an opportunity and they'll come in and do the exact same thing." WFC2 are in action again this coming Wednesday when the previously Western Conference leading Colorado Springs Switchbacks come to UBC. It'll be a tough game, but this month gives the 'Caps the chance to make a real push for a playoff spot. With a trip to Portland coming up next Sunday, and then a home and away set against Tulsa Roughnecks, points are up for grabs against two teams below them in the standings. Koch is hoping to use the recent results to now push on down the stretch but he's not looking too far beyond the next game right now. "We want to make the playoffs," Koch stated. "That's our goal. We'd like to push on and see how well we can do this last little bit of the season. We don't look too far ahead to be honest. We're going to focus on Wednesday. "We know next Sunday down at the Timbers will be a tough game, but we know we'll have a tough game on Wednesday first. So we'll go one game at a time. We're not looking too far ahead of that, particularly with the group that we have. We'll get ready not to take care of business on Wednesday." AFTN photographer Tom Ewasiuk was at WFC2's exciting win over Portland to capture all the action from before, during and after the game. Here's our "Story In Pictures", with a full Flickr slideshow at the end. [Also check out Tom's website www.residualimagephotography.com for more of his photos and work]. The WFC2 Starting XI Fatawu Safiu sparks the game into life in the 35th minute with a long range strike That beats Paolo Tornaghi and nestles nicely in the net Never nice to see happy Timbers Curva Collective in the house and in full voice for the canines in attendance After a half time kick up the ass, the 'Caps come out firing and Tyler Rosenlund grabs his first of the season in the 47th minute Then in the 63rd minute, the dynamic duo of Victor Blasco and Billy Schuler link up again And the Spaniard curls home from inside the box to make it 2-1 WFC2 Blasco is blazing a trail this month in USL Ben McKendry lets rip and nearly make it three for the 'Caps But can only look on as his effort crashes off the left post Not all good news for the 'Caps as Brett Levis comes off second best in a 50-50 challenge And is stretchered off in some pain Robbo congratulates Alan Koch on another win against a Cascadian rival. Next weekend they'll plot a double header down in Portland Pa Modou Kah has some advice and words of encouragement for the younger 'Caps One man and his dog - as if his looks didn't make Christian Dean a babe magnet already! You can see more photos from the match in the Flickr slideshow below:
  5. "I'm really happy," Blasco told reporters after the match. "I've been working hard for that for a long time. The most important thing is the three points, so thanks to my teammates." You could sense that it was just a matter of time before Blasco got those first goals, and they must have come as something off a weight off his shoulders. "Yeah, it's a bit like that," Blasco told us. "I had a bit of pressure for that because I've been always used to scoring goals. It was taking a little bit long, but now I'm happy. I was kinda calm though because I've plenty experience scoring goals. I knew it was like. If I take my time and was calm then there you go." Blasco has scored goals wherever he’s been. The 22-year-old (his birthday was on Canada Day!) came through the fabled Barcelona academy system before leaving to play with the youth and reserves teams of Mallorca, Cornella and Sabadell. Current WFC2 head coach Alan Koch had scouted Blasco in Spain and brought him over with the initial plan of playing NCAA soccer with the SFU Clan. That move was delayed to allow Blasco to head over to Nanaimo to play for Vancouver Island University Mariners, while taking classes to improve his English. As fate would have it, Koch moved on from SFU to take charge of the Whitecaps USL team and he knew a player he wanted to bring with him. When we ran our profiled Blasco in March, we asked Koch about what Blasco could offer the team. "If you watch him in a training session, you’ll see within five minutes" he told us. And it’s true. Blasco has impressed with his skills and touch in training and scrimmages. He just needs to put it all together in competitive games, and these two goals could very well be the spark that now sees him kick on and impress on the pitch for the rest of the season. There’s no doubting that Vancouver Whitecaps’ USL team is packed with talent. Some of it is more honed than others at this stage of their careers. Some of it is raw. Some of it has taken a bit of time to find its feet in the pro ranks and get fully going. It’s a young side and with that, as Carl Robinson regularly highlights with the MLS team, comes inconsistency, and that is also what Koch wants to see from Blasco. "When he scored that goal, you could kind of see a weight off his shoulders instantaneously," Koch told us. "A huge sigh of relief for him, which is great, and he went back and scored a goal right away. Hopefully that game's the catalyst that gets him going. "Good game by him, but he's still capable of more. We see special things from him in training. He just needs to figure out how to be more consistent. If he can do that in every game, he won't be in the USL for very, very long." The aim for all the players on the USL squad is to grab people’s attention, impress and ultimately land a MLS deal with the Whitecaps. Not all will make it with the ‘Caps, not all will make it to a higher level at all, but you get the feeling that Blasco is certainly one of the players that the Whitecaps are taking a close interest in to see how he develops and where his ceiling may be. Blasco has played in 13 matches so far this season, starting 7. With two goals and two assists, it’s not a bad return for the winger, and he also sits third on the team for shots on goal. Much like the team, it was a somewhat mixed start to the season for Blasco, who was sent off in the home opener against Toronto, before finding his rhythm. So on a personal level, how has he found his first season with the Whitecaps so far?. "I think it was kind of a rollercoaster a little bit," Blasco told us. "I've been playing good matches and some of them not so good. I've been getting used to the league also because here they play different. Also, fitness-wise, I was struggling a little bit, but now, every day that passes, I'm getting more used to it and I'm more happy and comfortable with the team and the coach." As Koch says, consistency is now the key fir Blasco and putting in the type of performances he had as a super sub against Seattle, week in and week out. That in itself is a challenge for all the young players on the USL team due to squad rotation and the minutes being shared around between the squad players and the MLS players coming down to play. But that is just the nature of the beast and Blasco knows, to thrive in the environment, you just have to find way to succeed. "When we all came here, we knew it wasn't going to be easy because a lot of the MLS guys come up and down," Blasco admits. "We all know our role here. We're all to work for the group. So every time we get our chance, we need to take it the best that we can."
  6. The Sounders had the best of the early chances and Marco Carducci did fantastic to dive and knock the ball off the feet of Oalex Anderson as he looked poised to open the scoring. It was a pretty end to end game in the first half, with the 'Caps shading the better play, led by an impressive Marco Bustos, Brett Levis and Andre Lewis. WFC2 could have been a couple of goals up if Bustos had perhaps played a quicker pass on a couple of breaks. WFC2's pressure was to pay off though four minutes before half time when Christian Dean grabbed his first professional goal after a neat one-two with Brett Levis. Dean had looked dangerous in the left back role, getting up and down the wing through the half and his work was rewarded by a well taken goal. 1-0 to the 'Caps at the half, and it was a half that showed just how good this young 'Caps side can be. They're certainly starting to click and develop as the year goes on. But not for the first time this season, they let their lead slip and S2 tied things up in the 67th minute when WFC2 failed to clear a corner, allowing Oniel Fisher to lay the ball off to Sergio Mota and the Brazilian curled a 20 yard beauty past a diving Carducci. The game seemed destined to end in another stalemate before WFC2 sub Victor Blasco stole the show. The Spaniard had come on as a 77th minute sub for Lewis and won all three points for the Whitecaps with two goals in a 78 second spell right at the end of the match. Not only was the brace his first goals of the season but they were also his first professional goals after a youth career in Spain and a college stint here on Vancouver Island. Blasco's first came in the 89th minute when fellow sub Billy Schuler cut the ball back and he slotted home from eight yards out. The pair combined again in the last minute of normal time when Schuler played in Blasco and the winger took a step inside his man before curling the ball past Charlie Lyon in the Sounders goal for a 3-1 final. A great and well-deserved win for the Whitecaps that moves them to within three points of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference standings. "Great game," was WFC2 coach Alan Koch's take after the match. "I thought we played very, very well. Good performance, great result. Obviously lots of little things that we can tidy up. We did give them a couple of chances that we're not happy with, but with a young group you obviously expect that. "Very, very pleased with the overall performance. Not only from the guys that started but the guys that came off the bench and made major impacts in the game today." One of those disappointing aspects for WFC2 was letting another lead slip away, although Koch was delighted with how his team regrouped. It's another sign of his this squad is growing. "Frustrating," Koch told us. "We try to play and with young players we're going to make mistakes. Happy to be 1-0 up, not happy when they scored. You could kind of see our guys take a bit of a pause for a second, kind of gather themselves thank goodness and then push towards the end. "You've got to play for the full 90 minutes, which we did today, and we deserved to get the three points. Full credit to the guys. I think everybody was good from top to bottom." WFC2 are in action again this coming Friday and it's another Cascadian derby as Timbers 2 come to town. It's a 7pm kick off, so head along if you can. AFTN photographer Tom Ewasiuk was at WFC2's exciting win over Seattle to capture all the action. Here's our "Story In Pictures", with a full Flickr slideshow at the end. [Also check out Tom's website www.residualimagephotography.com for more of his photos and work]. The Caps had some early pressure with Marco Bustos and Andre Lewis linking up well And the pressure pays of when Christian Dean plays a neat one-two with Brett Levis And hits a great finish to make it 1-0 WFC2 It was also Dean's first professional goal And you can see just what it meant to the big man Not for the first time in the game, Marco Carducci had to be at his best to keep out S2 While at the other end, Seattle's Lyon roared But when Sergio Mota unleashed his 20 yard curling beauty in the 67th minute There was nothing Carducci could do to keep it out Look who it is! Robert Earnshaw makes his return after his recent calf injury With a draw looming, up steps Super Sub Victor Blasco inn the 89th minute And the Spaniard slots home Billy Schuler's cutback to put the 'Caps ahead again Another first professional goal! And with three points likely secure, it's joy all round But Blasco wasn't finished yet! And he curls home his second just over a minute later to make it 3-1 Whitecaps! Blasco loves it and the fans love him! The goalscorers embrace! You can see more photos from the match in the Flickr slideshow below:
  7. "It's been probably exactly what I expected," Robinson told AFTN this week. "Everyone compares us to Portland and Seattle because they're USL teams as well. If you look at the average age of Seattle's USL team, correct me if I'm wrong, but it's older than my first team squad. "So every team and every club has their own identity of what they want to do with their club moving forward. Ours was, well we've got a young first team squad so unfortunately Alan's going to have a young USL squad. We've got 18, 19, 20 year olds playing against 23, 24, 25 year olds. They'll learn but they'll learn for the good of it as well." Robinson is still trying to find the right balance between how many of his MLS guys to send down to keep sharp and the use of them in his regularly rotating gameday squads. To date, 13 of the Whitecaps 30-man MLS roster has turned out in USL action, with the recovering Diego Rodriguez and Marco Bustos perhaps being the best beneficiaries so far. That's obviously meant a lot of chopping and changing in the WFC2 starting line-up, as has the rotation of the remaining USL squad members in order to get as many minutes for all the young players as possible. "Obviously you want to go and get results but it's about development," Robinson added. "It really is about development at that level for me. If Alan can push players into my team in the next couple of years or I can get players games, which I have from the first team, it's a vital tool." After a mixed start, the Caps are starting to see the best of both worlds - player developmental time and wins in the process. At the halfway stage of the season, WFC2 sits with a 3-7-4 record and 13 points. Not fantastic, but not the worst in the league either. They currently sit second bottom of a tight Western Conference, but at the time of writing this, that sees them only four points off the sixth and final playoff place in the West. Still a lot to play for down the stretch and like MLS, a run of wins or a run of losses can see a team rise or fall down that table pretty quickly. With a young squad that was put together pretty close to when the season got underway, it's been an overall pleasing start to their inaugural campaign in the eyes of WFC2 head coach Alan Koch. "We're halfway through the season and we're only four points out of a playoff spot," Koch said after last Sunday's loss to LA. "That's a huge positive for the group that we have. It's a young group. I think we still have the youngest group in the league. "To be at the halfway mark and be only four points out, that's a huge positive. As much as we're going to address things that weren't good today [in the loss to LA II], we are in a good place and hopefully we can continue the good work that the guys have been putting in during the second half of the season." Koch echoed Robinson's comments as to the exact purpose of the team, telling us that "as much as this group is about development, that's the primary mandate, we want to get results". And they have been coming. The team was unbeaten at home before LA came to town and had a four game unbeaten streak before hitting their current three match losing one. Fine lines, as Robinson would say. But all things considered, is the team where Koch was hoping they would be at this stage of the season or is he a little bit disappointed that they're not a bit further along in terms of development and results? "Tough question after we've just lost 2-0 and we didn't play very well," Koch told us. "We are in a good place. The team has got better, I'd say, every single week, other than this week, so we've come on a long, long way. A lot of the young players have really improved and the experience that they're getting is invaluable. "They're much, much better players now than they were when we started the season. I think we've come together as a group. We're creating a team identity. So after 14 games, we're in a much better place now than we were at the start of the season and I hope after the next 14 games we can say the exact same thing." It will certainly be interesting to see who the standout players have been come the end of the season. So far, a few have impressed, some unexpectedly, others have been slow to find their feet but are starting to come on to their game, and some have struggled and you have to give the honest assessment that they aren't likely to be with the club next year if they don't show rapid improvement. We won't name names at this stage, that's not fair considering the whole set-up of the team. It should also be remembered that for the vast majority, this is their first experience of the pro game and they're coming up against some much older players. Players will also learn and find their feet and comfort zone at different paces. And while it may sound harsh, part of the remit of the team is to see which players the Whitecaps should continue investing in and which players aren't ready or likely to make the grade and should be cut free. Expect a big turnaround in this team over the years. Football's a tough business. You need to perform to survive. Have WFC2's games shown that any of the MLS players stepping down could make an impact in the first team squad? Yes. And is there talent on the USL roster that could develop into a MLS player one day? Again, yes. So a win-win situation there. Moving in to the second half of the season now, there are some clear areas that Koch and his coaching team will need to focus on at both ends of the pitch. Defensively, WFC2 have a tendency to ship goals. The goals against total of 24 is the highest in all of USL and can't continue if they have the playoffs in mind. That's two dozen goals conceded in 14 matches and two of those saw clean sheets. Considering a lot of the Caps defence has consisted of MLS guys this season, that's a bit of a worry. "Obviously conceding those goals is disappointing, so we do have to tidy it up at the back," Koch told us. "The positives are we're creating a lot of chances but didn't score. So we've got to address both sides of the ball. "We've got make sure we defend better. The big part of that for the young players is learning to communicate a lot more on the field. Sometimes they're timid and sometimes they show that they actually can grab the bull by the horns and sometimes they don't." While the aim of WFC2 is to mirror the playing style of the MLS team in terms of formation and tactics, they also seem to have inherited their missedchanceitis. The team are looking good going forward every game until it gets to the final third and chances are regularly squandered. Caleb Clarke leads the scoring charts with five goals, but the Whitecaps overall total of 14 goals is second worst in the Conference and sixth worst in the 24 team league. Those 14 goals have come from 151 attempted shots, 72 of which have been on target. It's been tough going but a few more chances going in here or there would have made one hell of a difference to the teams standing. 'Every game that we've played, we've created chances," Koch continued. "We've just got to have the confidence and composure to go and take them. So we'll address both sides. Aim for a clean sheet and aim to score goals and hopefully that'll lead to good performances and positive results too." WFC2 get the second half of their debut season underway this afternoon with a home Cascadian clash with Timbers 2. Portland are currently sitting in that sixth and final playoff spot in the west, so it's a game which could give us all an indication as to whether the remainder of the season will be an exciting playoff battle or a tough slog with development and improvement very much in focus with an eye to next year already. For everyone involved, let's hope it's the former!
  8. It could have been all so different after Ian Christianson was sent crashing in the box as half-time approached and with the game still goalless. Caleb Clarke hit a woeful penalty wide left and the 'Caps were punished when LA took the lead moments later, in the 43rd minute. Carl Robinson always talks about "fine lines" and that was one there in a huge game-swinging two minute spell. "I think it would have made a huge difference," Koch said of Clarke's missed penalty. "We would have been a goal up shortly before half-time and hopefully would have gained some confidence, some momentum and maybe the game would have been better in the second half. "Any time you miss a penalty kick like that, it has huge implications on the game and today it certainly did." LA added a second half penalty of their own, after a harsh handball decision on Craig Nitti, after the ball hit his shoulder, and there was no way back for the 'Caps after that, the closest they came being when LA keeper Clement Diop tipped a Clarke shot onto the post in stoppage time. The game marked the halfway point of the regular season for WFC2 and saw the young 'Caps slump to three straight losses. That in itself is bad enough, but to be scoreless in all of those games will cause further concern. But, onwards and upwards. We'll have a look at the season so far through the eyes of Alan Koch and Carl Robinson later in the week. Next up for the 'Caps is a home Cascadian derby on Sunday against Timbers 2. How Canada's second round match-up against Switzerland at the Women's World Cup will affect the crowd will remain to be seen, but treat your dad for Father's Day if you can and take him along to the match. AFTN photographer Tom Ewasiuk was at WFC2's loss to LA II to capture all the action before, during and after the game and here's his "Story In Pictures", with a full Flickr slideshow at the end. [Also check out Tom's website www.residualimagephotography.com for more of his photos and work]. Ready for battle - the teams come out Oh Canada Victor Blasco was lively early and came close to giving the 'Caps the lead The game marked Marco Bustos' first USL start, and appearance, at home after injury WFC2 get the chance to take the lead after Ian Christianson is sent crashing in the box and the referee points to the spot Caleb Clarke steps up... But hits his 41st minute effort woefully wide And sod's law, LA go up the pitch and take the lead two minutes later after Travis Bowen is left unmarked and heads home Worse is to come in the second half as Craig Nitti is wrongly adjudged to have handled after this shot which hits his shoulder And Aeriel Lassiter makes no mistake from the spot to make it 2-0 LA in the 60th minute The 'Caps try to get back into it, switching to a 3-5-2 formation, but Blasco is thwarted again Others try but there is just no way past Clement Diop And it finished WFC2 0 LA Galaxy II 2 You can see more photos from the match (and of dogs!) in the Flickr slideshow below:
  9. You saw that for this past Sunday's USL game when the 'Caps bizarrely marketed it in part as "The return of Long Tan". I'm not quite sure just who the target audience was with that one (apart from a certain 'Old Fan' on the Southsiders forum and he couldn't even make the game!). Having all that potential was all well and good, but the problem was that Tan didn't actually cut it on the pitch with the 'Caps in Major League Soccer. Now, some would argue that that was because he didn't get the opportunity. Tan decried that fact himself on Twitter. But, to us, the fact was that he just wasn't MLS quality. DC United thought otherwise, and Tan played briefly with them towards the end of the 2012 season. A Championship winning stint in Orlando followed, before Tan returned to China for a year before returning to the US. But after all the travelling, and what felt at the time as a not so amicable parting of the ways between the two parties, Tan was back in Vancouver on Sunday when his Arizona United side headed to Thunderbird Stadium in USL action. It wasn't a happy homecoming for Tan as his side was on the end of a 2-0 loss, but he was still delighted to return to familiar surroundings. "It felt good," Tan told AFTN after the match. "It's been a long time not coming back. I feel like this is my home, so I was very excited. "I feel happy, but we lost, so I feel sad, but I still feel good that I come back home here." Tan came to Vancouver in late 2010. Having moved to the US from China in 2008, the striker first cut his teeth in the North American game with PDL side Atlanta Blackhawks, scoring seven goals in 12 appearances. Staying in the USL ranks, he moved up to D2 level with FC Tampa Bay for the 2010 season, before being part of a bizarre trade at the time that saw Tan head to Vancouver and Jonny Steele (later of New York Red Bulls "fame") and Ricardo Sanchez. Tan stayed with Tampa till the end of the season. After officially signing a MLS contract with the Caps in March 2011 after being on trial for a couple of months. He made his MLS debut a couple of weeks later and went on to play 13 games, and 437 minutes, for the Whitecaps during their inaugural season. As to what his favourite memory is of his time in Vancouver, that's an easy one. "I think it's my first goal, my first MLS goal," Tan was quick to reply. "I'm happy because I scored my first MLS goal with the Whitecaps here." Tan got that sole MLS goal against DC United on October 12th 2011. It was the match winner in a 2-1 victory and he became the first Chinese born player to score a goal in Major League Soccer. Tan made just four starts that inaugural MLS season, contributing two assists as well as his lone goal. He made more starts for the Caps PDL side, banging in five goals in six games. And therein lay one of the problems. Tan was too good for PDL level, but not quite at the MLS grade. A USL club back four years ago could have been the different breaker for him. It's something he's thought about and he's delighted to see MLS clubs in USL this season and the chance it gives the fringe guys to show their talent. "It's good for the USL and the league," Tan said. "It's good for pushing players to make the first team. It's very good for the young players." Despite shining at PDL level, grabbing that first MLS goal and with a managerial change for the 'Caps, it wasn't enough to convince new boss Martin Rennie that he was MLS calibre for his rebuilt side, and he only played 28 minutes and made four appearances in the first few months of the 2012 season. Tan was upset at the lack of opportunities, and after scoring three goals in two PDL matches, he sent out this tweet: When a player isn't getting playing time, he's going to get frustrated. That's what you want. You want that desire to get back into the team and the reckoning. It's how you express that of course that dictates how you're then viewed. The tweet earned Tan a suspension and at that point it was probably time for both parties to have a fresh start. And they did. DC United came in for Tan in return for a third round draft pick and the striker was traded 20 days after his tweet. Tan featured in six of DC's next nine games, making three starts and grabbing a goal in the 4-2 win at Chicago. But then the minutes dried up, he was loaned out to USL side Richmond Kickers and didn't feature in DC's last eight matches. He was released at the end of the season but went back to USL to join Orlando City, making 25 appearances and scoring 5 goals in their Championship winning season. "It was good, we won the Championship!" Tan told us. "They have good fans and we had a good coach and a good team. I really enjoyed there. "After they moved to MLS I had to go back to China because of my family. But now I come back to play in America again. I tried to come back to play in MLS." Tan spent the first part of 2014 with Chinese Super League side Harbin Yiteng before heading back to the US and joining Arizona United, which brings us bang up to date. He made 12 appearances for Arizona last season, banging in five goals and earning a multi-year contract with the club. After all his trials and tribulations, he's very happy in Scottsdale. Well, fairly happy! "I enjoy it there, but the weather is too hot," Tan laughed. "It's nice weather, it's better than over here! [in Vancouver]" Tan has continued his fine form with Arizona this season. He may have been blanked by the Whitecaps on Sunday, but he leads the team with four goals and an assist from their 10 games so far and he still harbours hopes of impressing at USL level with an eye to a step back up to Major League Soccer. "I hope to play MLS," Tan told us. "I hope I come back by doing good here [in Arizona]. I want to play in MLS [again]." Tan has shown he can score at the lower levels of the North American game. Can he do it at MLS level on a regular basis and earn another shot? Stranger things have happened and we wish him nothing but the best to try and get there.
  10. "If you look at the schedule, we've got so many USL games that we've got going on and so many MLS games and we've got a few injuries too, we actually had to ask for an exemption and the CSA approved it," WFC2 coach Alan Koch told AFTN after the game. "I don't think it's something we'll be using very often. You can see in our roster that we've been playing a lot of Canadians. We only started four today but we did get it approved by the CSA before the game." It wasn't the most exciting first half. Vancouver tried to take the game to Arizona but as with the first team, putting away those chances was proving difficult. The Whitecaps turned up the pressure at the start of the second and Caleb Clarke showed quick reaction four minutes in to tuck away a rebound after Arizona keeper Carl Woszcynski had done well to keep out a Kianze Froese shot from the edge of the box. The goal was Clarke's fourth of the season and his second straight game with a goal. Vancouver had several chances to add a second and were in control of the match. They finally got their second killer goal with 12 minutes of the game remaining. It came from Brett Levis and was the Saskatoon native's first professional goal. And what a beauty it was too as the midfielder won possession at the half way line and skipped past two Arizona players before burying it in the bottom right corner of the net. There was no way back for Arizona and the young Caps go marching on. Next up are two away matches in four days. Colorado Springs are first up on Wednesday followed by a trip to OKC Energy on Saturday. AFTN photographer Tom Ewasiuk was there to capture all the action before, during and after the game and here's his "Story In Pictures", with a full Flickr slideshow at the end. [Also check out Tom's website www.residualimagephotography.com for more of his photos and work]. The teams come out at Thunderbird Stadium, ready for battle WFC2 starting XI A small but loud supporters' section for this one The closest WFC2 came in the first half was a Caleb Clarke header But Clarke wasn't to be denied and put the Caps ahead in the 49th minute Victor Blasco comes close to making it two And so does Caleb Clarke as he tried to round Arizona keeper Carl Wozscynski But the Caps do make it 2-0 in the 78th minute when Brett Levis picks up the ball at halfway line and runs in on goal Getting past two Arizona players on the way and slotting home his first professional goal Much to his joy And relief! The young Caps applaud the fans after back to back home wins While it's a meeting of mutual respect at the goalkeepers' union Paolo Tornaghi is in demand after his clean sheet Former Whitecap, and Arizona striker, catches up with an old friend, AFTN contributor and Curva Collective's Zachary Meisenheimer, after the game You can see a Flickr slideshow of all of Tom's photos from the game below:
  11. [Also check out Tom's website www.residualimagephotography.com for more of his photos and work]. WFC2 come out for battle Oh Canada Things get feisty early with a 5th minute booking for the Monarchs' Lennon Celestino Caleb Clarke tries his new cunning plan to beat the offside trap And it works as he fires WFC2 into a 21st minute lead! Nothing like the ball nestling in the opposition net How many goals has he scored so far? Three is the answer 12 minutes later a great run, control and cut back from Victor Blasco sets up the second And Ben McKendry slots home his first of the season for 2-0 WFC2 Much to the dismay of the corner flag - and the referee who incredibly books him! "He's one of our own" sing Curva Collective Someone's a hugger Thunderbird Stadium in all its glory The 'Caps look like their heading for a comfortable win before pulling one back through a 82nd minute Lucas Baldin penalty that sends keeper Spencer Richey the wrong way The Monarchs are reduced to ten men when Phanuel Kavita picks up a second yellow It's a double bottle celebration kind of day for Jackson Farmer! Ben McKendry does the Humba with Curva Collective You can see a Flickr slideshow of all of Tom's photos from the game below:
  12. The Monarchs pulled one back through a Lucas Baldin penalty with eight minutes remaining, after Jordan Haynes brought down RSL's homegrown MLS player Sebastian Saucedo in the box. But after giving up a late equaliser against OKC Energy last weekend, there was to be no way back for the Utah side, who were reduced to ten men when Phanuel Kavita, another of the RSL's MLS players, picked up a second booking for a foul in the last minute. Vancouver looked the more dangerous team throughout, creating a number of chances but finding the Monarchs a tough team to break down at times. Real had chances of their own and did trouble the 'Caps at times, without finding a way through. WFC2 coach Alan Koch was naturally delighted with his side's first home win. "It's nice to win obviously," Koch told AFTN after the match. "It's been a long time coming. The only other win we've had was in the second game of the season so it's been a few weeks. "Give the guys credit. They've worked very, very hard for several weeks now to get that win. They've been getting sick and tired of tying at home, so I was glad that we could turn that round and get the three points today." Both teams had nine shots apiece, but Vancouver will disappointed that they appear to be mirroring the MLS side by creating some dangerous opportunities but are being let down by the final ball and the lack of clinical finishing. The defensive side of their game, and in particular not falling to another late goal, was more pleasing to Koch, but he wasn't so delighted with the overall team performance over the full 90 minutes. "We worked hard, but to be brutally honest, for the first 45 minutes I thought we weren't very good," Koch added. "We worked hard, we kept our shape, but they're a very, very good footballing team. They did good at keeping the ball. They made us run around all over the place and obviously we got a little bit tired. "But give our guys credit. The last ten minutes they score and we think, oh here we go all over again. But we hang on and showed the character to get the job done." That aspect of the Caps having to chase the ball and the Monarchs was certainly something matchwinner McKendry noticed as well. "It's credit to RSL, they came out and tried to play," McKendry told reporters after the match. "For large parts of the game, they made us chase. I think that's something we're not quite used to yet. Usually we're a team that likes to keep the ball. We did well to stay as a group. We're opportunistic and got those two goals which ultimately won us the game." The win moves WFC2 on to 9 points and a 2-4-3 record, four points off the last playoff place with a game in hand. The team is still clearly a work in progress, with all the chopping and changing of the starting line ups making it difficult to establish complete chemistry and establish a rhythm. You get the feeling it's very close to coming though and the last couple of performances have been marked improvements on some of their early season displays. "We get better every single day," Koch feels. "As I said, I wasn't that impressed with our performance today. I'd like to go watch the video, sometimes you get a different perspective from that. I was very happy with going out and obviously grinding out the result. "But our group, collectively, is getting better and better all the time. Our young guys in the team are improving and our older guys are grabbing the opportunities they've been getting. It's nice to see us rewarded today with the three points." Amongst those older players are two Americans with MLS experience. Billy Schuler played with San Jose Earthquakes last season and has played in eight of Vancouver's nine USL matches this season, starting three and grabbing two goals. Ian Christianson had two seasons with New York Red Bulls, but came to WFC2 rehabbing an injury. The midfielder got his first start with the 'Caps against the Monarchs, after two previous brief substitute appearances. Both players were brought in to add some experience to a very young WFC2 team and Koch feels that what they bring to his side will be important in the latter weeks of the season. Although fans haven't seen either player in full flow yet, Koch is confident the best is still to come from both guys. "They're obviously a little bit older than our teenagers essentially," Koch said. "They've got a little bit more experience. Both of them had good college careers and obviously have been in MLS. This is almost a second opportunity for them to see if they can do the same thing that they've done before and get themselves back into the league. It takes a little bit of time. "Billy started with us and he wasn't a 100% match fit. His match fitness is obviously a lot better now. Ian's been riddled with injuries. So we're integrating them and they've started to do better and better. Billy's scored a couple of goals and he'll hopefully continue to improve as the season goes on." Another experienced player turning out for WFC2 today was Diego Rodriguez, who played 64 minutes, and captained the side, in the centre of defence on his return from the injury he picked up against Columbus on April 8th. He looked sharp, composed in his own box and a danger at set pieces in the opponent's area. We'll have more on Rodriguez on AFTN later, but it was great to see him back and looking like he can add to the Caps in MLS. The Uruguayan was delighted to be back playing again and came through the game thankfully unscathed. "I feel very good," Rodriguez told us after the match. "It was a good game, it's a good group and we wanted to win. I felt very comfortable on the field and felt very happy." WFC2 now wrap up a three game home stand next Sunday when Arizona United come to town, with former Whitecap striker Long Tan in tow. The 'Caps are keen to make it seven points out of a possible nine against an Arizona side who are currently sitting in fourth place in the West, four points ahead of Vancouver with a 4-4-1 record. It'll be a tough game but everyone at WFC2 is keen to build on today's win and will be meeting an Arizona side coming off the back of a 3-0 US Open Cup defeat to unheralded (and relatively unknown) Californian amateur side Chula Vista Futbol Club on Wednesday and a 5-0 hammering in ULS action by Colorado Springs Switchbacks on Saturday. "They're a little bit up and down," Koch said of next week's opponents. "They were smacked on the wrong side of a rough score yesterday. I've watched videos of them already. They're a good team. A little bit hot and cold but you could say that we're a little bit hot and cold too at times. "There's no easy games in this league. The Western Conference is proving that right now. We played against Real Monarchs, who are near the bottom with us, and they're a good footballing team. There's no easy games. We'll be up for the challenge and hopefully we can get the same sort of result. Kick off is at 2pm at Thunderbird Stadium next Sunday, so get out and support the future if you can.
  13. Last week was a prime example of how one team being home and the other away had an effect on individual players. Robinson told us earlier in the week that he would need to make his mind up about who he wanted to take down to Utah with the MLS side and who would get valuable playing time back in Vancouver with WFC2. What that meant was that both Tim Parker and Christian Dean stayed home and played the full 90 minutes in the match. Great for their development, as the chances of them seeing any playing time against Real Salt Lake was slim. The downside of that was that the 'Caps then travelled to RSL with no center back on the bench and when Pa Modou Kah got injured late in the game, you were fearing the worst if he couldn't continue in the match. Thankfully it never came to that. Another player affected, this time negatively, was Kianz Froese. The young homegrown midfielder made the trip to Utah but wasn't named in the gameday 18 against RSL. With the MLS team getting back just after kick off in the USL match, that meant no minutes for Froese at all this past weekend. This weekend is a whole different story, as Robinson and the Whitecaps have a whole host of options available to them and with competition for places so fierce amongst the MLS team right now, and obviously positions limited, there's a good chance that we could see player like Kekuta Manneh, Erik Hurtado and Deybi Flores getting possibly no, or at best a few, minutes against DC United on Saturday. Then there's also guys like Jordan Harvey and Gershon Koffie who are unlikely to get on the pitch. If that's the case, what would be the chances of seeing these played suit up for WFC2 on the Sunday? It's something that Robinson isn't ruling out, but at the same time he feels playing in USL might do more harm than good for some of his squad. "It's possible because we've got the ACC tournament in mind," Robinson told us. "In two week's time there's going to be Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday, Wednesday games. So I need to make sure I've got enough numbers for that, because I will freshen it up in those games. "I'll speak to my senior players because these games are important to match fitness but they can sometimes also not help certain players. But if I feel it's right for certain players to play, then they'll certainly play. I won't give them the choice, they'll play." From that, I wouldn't expect to see Manneh or someone like Koffie play. Hurtado or Flores? Possibly. But I would expect to see Parker and Dean again, with Froese also getting the start this week. Sadly there will still be no Marco Bustos, as the young midfielder, who turned 19-years-old on Wednesday, had a CT scan on his injured foot on Thursday and is awaiting the results as to how much longer he may be out. Bustos is moving and running freely, and able to train, but he's still having pain when he kicks a ball. A tough break, in all ways. But should the Whitecaps be playing more of the fringe MLS players in the USL team? For me, yes. It's fine developing the young up and comers with WFC2, but these are the guys that currently have MLS contracts and need to be match fit if suddenly called upon to start for the first team. There's times and there's games, like this weekend, where a derby match will be great development for the fringe MLS guys and a great chance to show Robbo their hunger and their ability to break into his gameday squad. The USL team has a lot more uses than just throwing some prospects together. It's a tool LA put to good use with their LA Galaxy II side last season, and Portland Timbers have announced that Will Johnson will play his first game in six months against Arizona United on Saturday, as he continues his recovery from a broken leg. With so many non MLS games coming up in the Canadian Championship and the CONCACAF Championship League, getting all the players match sharp is a must.
  14. 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!
  15. Toronto tied things up through Jay Chapman in the 57th minute, somewhat against the run of play and with the help of a referee that blocked Tyler Rosenlund and inadvertently set up the chance. That goal sparked TFC2 into life and they looked like the only team that was going to win this thing, missing a couple of great opportunities to do so. Their cause was helped further when Victor Blasco picked up two yellow cards in the space of five minutes and was sent off in the 68th minute. The couldn't make their man advantage tell and the Whitecaps were then thrown a lifeline in the 77th minute when Mark Anthony Kaye picked up his second yellow of the game, after sending Ben McKendry flying, and the teams were level in personnel once again. Both teams had chances to win it. The 'Caps got in the better positions and will be disappointed to come away with only a draw, remaining with just one win now from their first five games. AFTN photographer Tom Ewasiuk was there to capture all the action before, during and after the game and here's his "Story In Pictures", with a full Flickr slideshow at the end. [Also check out his website www.residualimagephotography.com for more of his photos and work]. A packed Thunderbird Stadium ready for WFC2's home openerThe teams come outMarie Hui belts out the Canadian national anthemBen McKendry has a chance at making history with WFC2's first home goalOh! So close, but Quillan Roberts comes up with the saveCaleb Clarke is next to try his luck but Roberts thwarts him as wellBut the goal finally comes in the 33rd minute as Caleb Clarke coolly slots home past RobertsAnd the team celebrate the occasionBubble football - It's the futureAnd the band plays onTFC II come storming back into the game with Jay Chapman's 57th minute equaliserBooooooooooooooooThe Whitecaps' cause receives a further set back when Victor Blasco is sent off in the 68th minuteAnd the Spaniard is off for an early bathBut numbers are levelled up nine minutes later when Mark Anthony Kaye hacks down Ben McKendryAnd Kaye picks up his second yellow and is sent offBut neither team can break the deadlock and the game ends as a 1-1 draw'Caps goalscorer Caleb Clarke scrums after the gameAs does WFC2 head coach Alan Koch You can see a Flickr slideshow of all of Tom's photos from the game below:
  16. The first one is that old chestnut of just what should we be expecting from the team? Should we be primarily focused on results? Development? A combination of both? The latter is the perfect answer. That WFC2 becomes both a winning team that is developing future Whitecaps MLS talent. That's the goal. That's the dream. It's obviously not the current reality. Not yet at least. My argument will always be that to develop players, results matter. A winning team breeds winners. We need confident and successful players, who have had that taste and want more at the higher level. It's an old cliché, but winning really is infectious. If you look at the 'Caps results so far, how much does a 4-0 thumping by Seattle develop a player? Sure, it can build resilience and a desire improve their game and to do better next time, but it can also sow the seeds of doubt that they're maybe not as far along the road as they think they are as a player. Some will argue that development is all that really matters for WFC2. The team is a chance for players to get minutes and for coaches to assess just whether they are future MLS prospects or whether they should cut their losses and move on to the next guy. You can't get a proper look at a player in training, in friendlies or reserve matches. They need competitive action and USL will certainly give them that on a regular basis. Who cares if they win or lose, just so long as they develop and get ready for, hopefully, the move to the next level? When you're charging money to go and watch the team play at Thunderbird though, fans want to see a winning, or at the very least an entertaining, product on the pitch. How many will continue to pay on a regular basis to see a team that is simply learning and developing but not winning? That's the big question. Fans will know this is a developmental team, but will they want to pay to watch that? It's certainly a step up from PDL in terms of the overall standard, but you were struggling to get over 100 at those games and they were free. And the Caps were winning. There will be over 2000 fans there for the home opener. A great start and something for the Caps to build on for sure. But back to the whole winning v development argument. It's complicated and Carl Robinson agrees. "Results, it's tricky, because we want to win every game that we play, at whatever level we're playing at," Robinson told reporters this week. "But it's also about getting players minutes and developing young players as well, so it's an important tool for us this year, WFC2." Part of the issues for WFC2 so far is the lack of chemistry and the lack of consistency in their starting line-up. The team is chopping and changing every game so far. There were five changes to the starting eleven from their first game in Seattle, to their next game, their first win, in Austin. Now normally, you wouldn't want to change a winning team but there were a further five changes from Austin to game three against Orange County. Then a staggering nine changes for the most recent match, the midweek loss in Sacramento. It's not conducive to a winning formula. I'm not really sure it's conducive to a good developmental formula for the players either. The Caps will know that, Alan Koch will knows that and Robbo knows it, but it's a situation that isn't likely to, or able to, change any time soon. "I want to try and get a rhythm into the team," Robinson told us. "Obviously Alan does as well. It's tricky. They've had a number of away games at the moment. Three games in a week is always going to be difficult as well. I've shown with my group here that there will be players in and out and there will be again on Saturday. "It's not ideal, but it is a platform for us to get players minutes and to get players experience but also get some of the younger guys up as well from the Residency. And keep everyone happy. That's important." When it comes to consistency, tied into that is the fact that WFC2 coach Koch doesn't always know what players he has at his disposal and what players Robinson wants to get minutes until very close to kick off time. MLS players have been loaned to the USL team for every game so far. Some haven't been loaned until the night before the match, as was the case this past weekend when Kianz Froese and Tim Parker were only added to the USL squad once the 'Caps MLS match had finished in San Jose. And in the case of the former, that meant playing in both matches and having to travel the near six hour trip on the morning of the Orange County game. Again, not ideal, but again, there's not any way around it right now and it was always going to be the case. All the parties involved knew that. If anything, with all the games coming up for the Whitecaps over the next few months, the problem is just going to be exacerbated. "We want results," Robinson reiterated. "We want to do as well as we can in the USL. We want to do as well as we can in MLS. During the season it's going to happen, with the Canadian games coming up for us and the Champions League eventually well when the draw gets made. "Alan's team will be dependent on what I do with my team and who plays in my team, so unfortunately I think that's the way it's going to be." There have been some positives to come out of the WFC2 so far however. I've personally liked what I've seen of goalkeeper Spencer Richey so far, obviously aside from being beaten by a 60 yard wondergoal. Even the best get beaten by such strikes at times. Just ask David Ousted. He's looked confident and assured and has a clean sheet to his name as well. Local midfielder, and Residency alumni, Sahil Sandhu has started three of the four games so far and has impressed at times, especially with his workrate. As has his fellow midfielder, Victor Blasco, who certainly has some skills not seen from others in the squad. It is slightly worrying that the MLS players that have dropped down to the team have, on the whole, not really shone all that much. Others will start to shine in the coming weeks I'm sure, and for the players that do well, Robinson wants to reward them with training stints with the first team. "Yes, without a doubt," Robinson told us. "I've spoke to the guys about that in the early part of the year because six or seven of my guys went up to the USL team to play in a practice match and the USL team beat the Major League Soccer players 4-1. "It was an eye opener for them and I stressed then to Alan and stressed to the group that if I believe someone is doing well in USL, and I think that there are one or two at the moment who are emerging, they will be given the opportunity to train down here. "Will they be able to play for us? Probably not at the moment but I think the carrot of coming down to train with this group shows it works both ways. It's not just a downward tool where we're allowing players to go down and get games but also an upward tool where if you do well in that team you'll get the opportunity to train with the first team, which is always important." Whitecaps fans will finally get the chance to watch the new team in person on Sunday. Just who they'll see will be dependent on what squad Robbo takes down to Utah. The luxury of having a player on the bench against RSL and then play for USL the next day isn't an option for this one. "The guys that travel with me to Salt Lake won't be involved unfortunately because by the time we get back, just before kick off on Sunday, it's not ideal for them," Robinson told us. "There's no preparation, Alan can't prepare his team for that game. The guys that travel won't be involved on Sunday, so we'll have to make some decisions today based on that." But whoever takes the pitch against TFC II on Sunday, the important thing is that they give a good account of themselves. You only get one chance to make a first impression. There will be nerves, especially from some of the local lads, and the pressure will be on. That in itself is all part of the learning curve and development of these players after all. It's going to be a good crowd, it's going to be a beautiful day. Let's hope for a fantastic performance to cap it all of. And remember, results do matter. Especially when you're playing Toronto.
  17. The 21-year-old came through the fabled Barcelona academy system before leaving to play with the youth and reserves teams of Mallorca, Cornella and Sabadell. Coming to play in Canada was likely one of the furthest things on his mind, but after impressing the then SFU Clan head coach Alan Koch on a scouting trip to Europe, that’s exactly what happened. Now, within a year of coming over, he’s signed a pro deal with the Whitecaps. "When he came to see me, I was playing for Mallorca," Blasco told AFTN about his first contact with Koch. "In Spain, there is a great economical crisis, so he offered me a scholarship. It wasn't an easy decision, but my family told me if you want to study, this is a very good opportunity for you. Not only being in a sporting environment but also in an academic place. "As I said, there's an economic crisis and it's a bad moment in Spain right now, so I thought it was a pretty good opportunity for me, and here I am." That in itself is a good story, but it’s what happened between that scouting trip and his signing with WFC2 that we find the most interesting part of his journey so far. Blasco was signed to play for SFU, but in a unique deal, he was loaned out to Vancouver Island University Mariners for the 2014 PACWEST season. The reason? Blasco’s English wasn’t up to what was needed for him to be able take courses at SFU. VIU offered an English as a second language speaking course to help foreign students understand and learn the language better. When you speak with him now, his English is pretty much impeccable. Some would say it’s better than mine! Coming over to a new country, especially on your own, can be a daunting enough experience. To do so when your grasp of the native language "wasn’t very good" must have been even more so. As tough as it was, he’s loved his time in Canada so far and all the new experiences that it’s brought him. "It was pretty hard at first, but at the same time it was pretty exciting for me," Blasco said. "The opportunity to come here and learn another language kind of opened my mind to another culture, new people and an absolutely different environment. Everything that has happened here has been positive to me. "It was tough, of course, to learn a new language and stuff, but I think I fit pretty well here." And for a lad born and raised in the hot Mediterranean climate of Spain, even the infamous BC weather doesn't phase him. Well, at least not too much. "Actually, it's pretty nice weather," Blasco said with a smile. "I like it. It rains too much for me, but I'm getting used to it! It's not better or worse than Spain, it's just different, but I love it." It's pretty clear that Blasco not only feels right at home already in British Columbia, but he's settled in immediately to the Canadian football scene. It was almost a dream rookie season for the winger with VIU Mariners. All that was missing was a Championship at the end of it. Blasco won PACWEST Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year honours, as the number one seeded Mariners lost out on penalties to Douglas College in the PACWEST Championship game. Blasco scored in both the semi final and final. Two of his 12 goals from his 13 appearances with VIU. Despite the loss, VIU headed east for the CCAA Nationals, where they again lost out in the Championship game on penalties, this time to Sheridan Bruins, with Blasco scoring a couple in the final, including the game tying goal when injured. Not really surprising that a player who was with the Barcelona youth academy for eight years up to U16 level would handle the demands posed by being in a new country and do well at CCAA college level. And whatever his footballing future holds in store, the winger has great memories of his time with Barca. "I was there from when I was 8 to 15 years old," Blasco said. "It was a pretty nice moment in my life. I learned a lot. I was with very good players and everything that happened there was incredible. Absolutely exciting." But now it's all about the Whitecaps for the young Spaniard and using what he's learned along the way to excel in USL. But as he tries to impress in his latest new surroundings, those surroundings are already impressing him. "It actually surprised me a lot because I didn't really know how it worked here," Blasco admitted. "We have very, very professional staff. We have a very good environment here and it seems really really professional. It's actually incredible. I think we have a good, exciting team." As for what Blasco can offer WFC2, his goals and performances at VIU have given some indication, but how would he describe his own game? "I like to play on the wings," Blasco said. "Both wings works for me. I usually play on the left, but now I'm playing more on the right. I think I am a very attacking player. I try to dribble, I try to create attacking chances, score goals, provide goals too. My type of play is speed playing. Dribble, shoot, attacking player." The original loan deal between SFU and VIU was for one year. With Blasco signing a pro deal with the 'Caps, the Clan and NCAA are no longer an option for the Spaniard moving forward. While some college players like Chris Serban will be looking to continue his studies and play for both WFC2 and the UBC Thunderbirds, Blasco's focus is firmly on the footballing side for now. His target - playing in MLS with the Whitecaps. And the man who brought him over to Vancouver to begin with believes he has what it takes to get there. "If you watch him in a training session, you'll see within five minutes," WFC2 coach Koch told AFTN when we asked him what it was about Blasco that made him want to sign him twice now. "He's energetic, he's passionate, he's great on the ball. He's very, very creative. A very likeable guy. He wants to learn, he wants to get better. He's got a lot of those intangibles that kids in Spain that grew up around a ball all the time, around the game, have. He understands his position. "I'm looking forward to pushing him because he's got a lot of talent. Just like all the players in our team, but the sky's the limit for him. The better he does here, obviously the better chances for him to move further in the game."
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  19. Schuler is a 5"11' striker who spent last season in MLS with San Jose Earthquakes, making six league appearances for the Quakes and one in CONCACAF Champions League action. His MLS debut actually came against Vancouver, coming on in the 'Caps 3-2 win at BC Place last May and playing the last 11 minutes of the match. He made his one and only start for San Jose in the 1-0 loss at Seattle two weeks later and played 137 MLS minutes altogether. Capped by the US at U17 and U20 level, Schuler had a successful college career with the University of North Carolina Tar Heels, going on to score 29 goals and contribute 15 assists in 79 appearances and lifting the 2011 College Cup. That Championship win prompted Schuler to come out college after his Junior year (which was actually his fourth year as he had one redshirt year through injury) and head over to Europe, joining Swedish club Hammarby IF. After two seasons in Sweden, which included a loan spell with Nacka FF, Schuler decided to head back to the States and joined San Jose last season before being freed in Dominic Kinnear's reshuffle of the team. The Quakes' loss is WFC2's gain and coach Alan Koch is delighted that the soon to be 25-year-old striker has landed in Vancouver. "He's a great attacking player," Koch told AFTN at WFC2 training on Friday morning. "He can play as a 9, as a 10. We even looked at him in the last session as an outside player too. Great kid, great player. Not quite match fit yet at this stage. It's going to take another week or two to get where he needs to be, but as soon as he's ready, he's going to compete for a starting spot for us. Schuler is joined as the newbie in the squad by former New York Red Bulls midfielder Ian Christianson. Christianson has spent the last two seasons in New York, after being selected 22nd overall by the Red Bulls in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft. He made three sub appearances, lasting nine minutes, for New York last season before being released at the end of the year. Like Schuler, Christianson also has some CONCACAF Champions League experience under his belt, starting two of the Red Bull's games in their 2014-15 campaign. Christianson came to MLS from Georgetown University and he captained the Hoyas in both his Junior and Senior seasons, on his way to scoring 14 goals and adding 10 assists in his 78 appearances. His college career came to a heartbreaking end however when Georgetown lost the 2012 College Cup 1-0 to Indiana. The midfielder is certainly familiar with USL. He spent three of his summers playing PDL, first with Chicago Fire Premier and then with Reading United, and he had a short loan spell with Orlando City last season, making three appearances for the Lions in USL PRO. Christianson can play both midfield and defensive roles and that versatility will definitely be one of his attributes that appealed to the 'Caps. "He's a silky smooth, left-footed midfielder," Koch told us about Christianson. "He can also play potentially as a left full-back or as a central defender. Very, very comfortable on the ball. I think he's going to suit the way that we're going to ask our team to play. "Great guy too, just like Billy. They're both excited to be here. They can see already that we've got a lot of young talented players around them. They're both a little bit older than our teenagers or 20-year-olds and 21-year-olds, so we're literally speaking that they're going to give us a little bit of experience, which we'll definitely need in some intense games." It's unlikely that either player will feature in the starting line-up for WFC2's inaugural USL game against Seattle on Sunday, but they may feature on the bench and expect to see both of them pushing for starting minutes in the near future. Their additions and experience certainly round off the USL squad nicely. Now all that remains is to finally get the season off and running.
  20. Washington Huskies goalkeeper Richey was widely tipped to be taken pretty early on in the draft, but as things played out, the Whitecaps were able to get him with the penultimate pick of the third round, 61st overall. "I spent five years down at the University of Washington," Richey told AFTN. "It was an awesome experience. I'm super thankful for the staff and what that program did for me and for my soccer abilities especially. "Going in to the draft I didn't have a ton of idea where I was going to end up, which was kind of part of the fun of it." The fact that it ended up being the Whitecaps that selected him came a something of a surprise to Richey. The 'Caps hadn't been one of the clubs that had shown interest in him going in to the draft, although they had previously brought him up to Vancouver for some training time. "I came up here a few years back, right when Marius [Rovde] got here, but the rest of the staff wasn't here yet. So that was the only history or kind of communication. That was the last time I spoke to them, so it was a bit of a surprise in a totally positive, good way. "Just getting to know the technical staff and the guys and even going down to getting to know the equipment guys and the medical staff. They've all been super helpful and all seem like good guys, so I'm really enjoying it so far." After a string of strong showings with an increasingly successful Washington side in NCAA, which saw them ranked number one in the nation for a time last year, a pro career was always looking on the cards for Richey. He'd represented the US at both U17 and U20 level and had played at the 2009 U17 World Cup. Things were looking rosy, but it wasn't to prove to be a smooth journey for the young keeper, as a leg break four games into his senior season with the Huskies derailed plans. Richey was forced to sit out the remainder of the 2013 NCAA season, as the Huskies made it to the Elite 8 stage of the College Cup, only to be knocked out by Ben McKendry's New Mexico Lobos, in a game that saw the Residency alumni, and now teammate of Richey, score the only goal of the game on a bitterly cold December night in Seattle. Richey watched from the sidelines as he continued to recover from his injury, and he was soon faced with a tough decision. Did he head into the 2014 MLS SuperDraft as planned or go for a redshirt season and repeat his senior year? The lure of the pros and still entering the draft crossed his mind, but in the end he decided that wouldn't be the best move for his future career. "I thought about it," Richey admits. "Jamie Clark, our head coach down there, is big on evaluating all your options. We sat down and chatted about it. I actually got invited to the combine, even though I was nowhere near healthy enough to participate in it. So it was something we thought about. "But, especially as a goalkeeper, you're not in a big hurry to get to the next level. You're not in a race against your prime so to speak. With a goalkeeper you've got a little bit of a longer career, barring injuries and things like that. We thought it was the right choice to come back and rehab properly and play my 5th year down there and I'm glad I did." All that's in the past and Richey's professional career is now underway in Vancouver and it was evident from the early days of preseason camp that not only had the Whitecaps acquired a talent, they liked what they saw. Richey was officially added to the WFC2 roster last week and will now battle it out with Carducci for starting minutes in USL this season. The Whitecaps are keen for both keepers to fight it out, and constantly push and test each other throughout the season. It's likely that they'll each share significant playing time between themselves. Heading into his first pro environment, it's a challenge Richey is looking forward to and one which he feels will be beneficial to both keepers and the 'Caps in the long run. "It's something we've talked about and from the sounds of it, Marco and I will be down there quite a bit together," Richey revealed. "From everything I've understood, they think the best goalkeeper will play, which is awesome to hear. Coming in as a new guy, all you want is a shot to compete and a shot at playing time. "Marco's a really quality goalkeeper, especially for how young he is, so I've been pretty impressed by him. It'll be fun competing for minutes and I'm sure it will make us both better." Richey's journey to the Whitecaps is an interesting one, especially as landing in Vancouver now puts him in the unique situation of playing for all three Cascadian clubs. A Seattle native, Richey turned out for the Sounders in PDL action in 2010 and 2011, before heading south to play for the Portland Timbers U23 side in 2012, where he played alongside Erik Hurtado, in front of some large crowds. He's now completed the Cascadia trifecta. "It's kind of funny," Richey told us. "At my school we had four guys that went pro this past year. Two to Seattle, one to Portland and one to Vancouver, so that was kind of a crazy coincidence. I've had a fun ride these past five, six years. Kind of bouncing around. I'm trying to get different experiences. "Down in Portland, it was an awesome summer. Probably my best PDL experience. They take it really seriously and it's a good program down there. It's pretty wild [with the crowds they draw]. You wouldn't know it was a PDL game unless someone told you. Like I said, trying to get as many different experiences, in as many different environments as possible, can only help in the long run." Different, but similar environments, for after being born and raised in Seattle, Richey has found himself not having to travel too far in his playing career so far. Now, after bouncing around the PDL scene in the Pacific Northwest, where he also had a season with Washington Crossfire, Richey begins his footballing journey in the pros still in Cascadia. With all the uncertainty of draft day and where he might end up, it must have been a nice feeling for him to know that he was about to begin the new chapter in his life not too far from family, friends and familiar surroundings, instead of having to up sticks and move to the other side of the country. "It's one of those things that whichever team takes you, you're stoked about it because that's the team that's giving you your shot before anybody else is," Richey told us. "But obviously being close to home, it's fun to be able to, on an off day, sometimes make a trip down and back. It's fun to see the family and what not. "But it's also fun to go to a new city and kind of get out of my own back yard. It's a good balance of both, where I can visit now and then, but it's fun to be in a new adventure, a new area." Richey's enjoying his new life in Canada, but he's also enjoying continuing to hone his craft in a professional footballing environment. He may have only been here for a few weeks so far, but he feels that what he's learned in that time from David Ousted and Whitecaps goalkeeping coach Marius Rovde has been invaluable and already improved his game. "It's one thing that's fun about sports overall, but goalkeeping especially, everyone does it a little bit different," Richey said. "So it's fun training with different goalies and different nationalities from other parts of the world. Everyone plays a little different. "David's been super helpful to me and Marius as well. I've kind of taken bits and pieces, a page from their book, a page from his book, and not totally changing what you do but little things that can help you along the line. Both of them have already given me quite a few pointers that have helped me out. It's a different game up here, so there's definitely parts of my game that I need to adjust to make sure I can play at this level." And has Ousted been teaching him to scream at his defenders?! "He is!" Richey laughed. "But that's honestly probably one area that I need to get better at. I'm kind of a, not necessarily a quieter guy at heart, but I'm not much of a yeller. At times, it's absolutely necessary to be a yeller, to wake some guys up if their off to a slow start. That's one of the things, one of many, that I can take from David and those older guys." With the preseason now over for WFC2, the challenge of their inaugural USL season begins down in Richey's hometown of Seattle on Sunday. It'll be a long and tough season ahead, but it's one Richey feels the Whitecaps are heading in to in good shape for success. "The one thing we know is that we've got tons of talent, tons of good players," Richey said. "The chemistry will come. It's tough cos one of the benefits of having a USL team is that it's right in your back yard, so the MLS players, it's easy for them to swing back and forth. But the downside of that is that the full roster isn't there all the time, so it's coming and going. I think that will be the biggest challenge for us. "Regardless of what roster is out there on a given weekend, and I'm sure it will be changing all the time, the more training and the more we can get out of the games that we do play together, from a comfort standpoint, will be the biggest challenge. The players are there and the talent is there, so we've got high hopes and we'll be competitive."
  21. "The first 25 to 30 minutes against SFU, they gave us a good challenge," Koch told AFTN after the Oregon match. "Then I think our guys figured things out and picked it up, came out and put in a good performance the rest of the way through. "Today, and I give Oregon State credit, for the majority of the 90 minutes they made us question ourselves at times and made us have to go out and actually problem solve on the pitch. Having said that, I give our guys credit. It wasn't a great performance but they figured it out, they got themselves a result. We win and we should move forward now to the season in good confidence and feeling pretty good about ourselves." Oregon State started the match strongly, going ahead just two minutes in, as the 'Caps defence were being given a testing time. But they saw off the pressure and Spanish winger Victor Blasco tied the score up in the 16th minute, after his shot was deflected in off a Beavers defender after some fantastic build up work from Ben McKendry, who had broken up an Oregon attack. The Whitecaps finished the half the stronger but Oregon State came out refreshed for the second half and went ahead for a second time six minutes in when they headed home a corner. But the 'Caps regrouped and then controlled the rest of the match. WFC2 captain Tyler Rosenlund tied things up again in the 65th minute when the ball came to him on the edge of the box from a corner and he drilled a fine shot into the bottom left hand corner of the net. You got the feeling that a WFC2 winner was coming and it did with six minutes to go, when McKendry went on a run and played in Blagojevic, who took a touch before burying it past Whitecaps Residency alumni Nolan Wirth. McKendry and Blagojevic had linked up well, and that was one of the positives to take from a mixed performance, that didn't see too many players stand out on the day or stake a claim for themselves in next week's starting eleven. The WFC line-up for the game was as follows: Spencer Richey; Ethen Sampson, Jackson Farmer, Craig Nitti, Jordan Haynes (Chris Serban 57);.Mitch Piraux (Alex Marrello 77), Tyler Rosenlund, Victor Blasco (Jovan Blagojevic 69), Ben McKendry; Brett Levis (Sahil Sandhu 69); Caleb Clarke (Mackenzie Pridham 57) Preseason is in the history books and the WFC2 squad now have a week to focus and prepare for their inaugural USL match next Sunday. Seattle Sounders 2 will provide a stiff test for the Whitecaps at Starfire next weekend. The Sounders kicked off their USL season on Saturday night with an impressive 4-2 win over Sacramento Republic in front of a sold out home crowd of 2,951 fans. All six goals game in a frenetic second half. But after a preseason which has seen his squad quickly gel and start to show the makings of an impressive attacking side with fierce competition for places, Koch is heading into the USL season in confident mood. The tough part is actually now nailing down what his starting eleven is going to be. "I think we're in a good place, " Koch told us. "We have a good group of players They're enthusiastic, they're motivated, they're fit, they're ready. We have a good grasp on how we're asking them to play. At this stage it's now trying to figure out exactly what the starting line-up is going to be. "If you ask me right now, I have no clue, because it's not just looking at our group that we have right now, it's also about trying to manage the player pool that the group has within the club. But the group that we have here have been working very hard for us and I'm very proud of them so far and I'm excited to work with them going into the season." Exactly what players from the MLS squad Carl Robinson will want to get regular minutes right now is the unknown quantity in all of this. Several have featured in the preseason matches and training scrimmages, including centrebacks Christian Dean and Tim Parker. While they, and others like Marco Bustos (who is currently injured) and Kianz Froese, will move freely between the two squads, we also expect to see Andre Lewis announced as being loaned to the USL team for the season. This frees up both a roster and international spot, allowing Robinson to finally sign Robert Earnshaw. But as Koch told us before, competition for places on the team is fierce and he has a couple of players battling it out for every position. We expect Marco Carducci to get the initial nod in goal, although Spencer Richey has been pushing hard. They may share starts to begin with but Koch has told them both that the best keeper will win out in the end and make the starting spot his. Carducci can still play for the U18s in USSDA action, as he was away doing this weekend. The defence is a toss up right now, with so many players pushing. Jackson Farmer has looked very good in camp in both the right back and centreback positions and we're fans of what Chris Serban can bring to the team in either full back role. The two centrebacks could change from game to game with four guys, including new addition Craig Nitti, all wanting and needing minutes. Captain Tyler Rosenlund should fill one of the DM roles and whether it will be Mitch Piraux or Ben McKendry beside him will have to be seen. All three can also play other midfield roles. Brett Levis has featured regularly in the preseason games but I think he may miss out on a starting spot initially. Victor Blasco may have done enough against Oregon State to see him starting on the right, with Jovan Blagojevic coming on as a sub, although it is Blagojevic who has the contract right now. Marco Bustos will play the number 10 role when fit, but there's a few others who can step in there right now until he is. Up front, for me, Mackenzie Pridham has shown much more than Caleb Clarke these past few games, although Clarke did do well against Seattle. Pridham banged four goals in against SFU and hit the bar against Oregon State, and that one looked like it had crossed the line. We all know what Clarke can do, he now needs to start showing it. So a lot for Koch to think over this coming week. But whoever ends up taking the pitch at Starfire next Sunday, the WFC2 coach is confident they'll get the job done and the 'Caps will get their new USL era off to a successful start. "We're going in to Seattle," Koch said. "They played last night and won, so they've picked up three points already. They've got that first game, first jittery nerves, out of the way already too. But we've got a good week [ahead]. We'll put in a good week of training in together, go out and give it our best shot. We're feeling good about ourselves, so there's no reason why we can't go there and win the three points."
  22. Serban's rise within the Whitecaps has been swift. The defender came to the 'Caps Residency program in February last year, becoming an immediate starter and going on to make 15 appearances for the U18s in USSDA action. After an early playoff exit, Serban made the step up to the Whitecaps PDL side, making a further 11 appearances for the Caps. An obvious talent, the next stage of his development was always going to be key and Serban chose to head down the college route with UBC Thunderbirds, before returning to the 'Caps fold as one of the first signings on the new WFC2 roster. "It's very exciting, for sure," Serban told AFTN when we caught up with him at WFC2 training recently. "I know the Whitecaps are an excellent organisation and with this USL team it provides me with an extra opportunity to develop and improve my game and hopefully raise my game to try and get to the MLS level. So I'm definitely excited to sign for USL and I'm looking forward to this season." Serban is certainly an exciting prospect and one to keep an eye on this coming season and he could be one of the breakout guys. Moving up from the youth ranks is always a defining time for young players as they face an older and often more physical environment. You can never be 100% certain just who will make it, but Serban has already acquitted himself well at PDL (U23) and college level. The full back impressed during his freshman year at UBC, making 16 appearances in a very stingy Thunderbirds defence. It earned him CIS "Rookie of the Year" honours and put him firmly on the radar for the Canadian national team. UBC coach Mike Mosher told AFTN last year that Serban had been "absolutely terrific" since coming in to the team and the program and he hopes to work with him for many years to come, which we'll come to later. But despite earning all the plaudits, Serban admits it was an adjustment moving up to that next level. "It was challenging," Serban told us. "It's definitely more aggressive and I had to step up my physicality. That's been pretty much the biggest difference I've seen, plus attention to detail. Always being switched on. The speed of play is really quick." Part of that challenge was adjusting to a new role, for while Serban had been playing right back for the Whitecaps Residency, he slotted into the left back position at UBC. Different, but he feels comfortable playing in either of the full back positions. "I don't mind. If it's on my left, I don't care, I'll hit it with my left. It doesn't really make a difference to me." And it certainly didn't look like it made any difference out on the pitch. Having that versatility is a useful string to have to his bow, as the likes of Russell Teibert has shown with the Whitecaps first team these past couple of seasons. The more positions you can play, the more it bodes well for your involvement with the team. "It definitely does," Serban agreed. "Because you never know with injuries and what we'll have during the game with substitutions. If the coach needs me to go to the left side or the right side, I don't mind. I'll play anywhere that I need to be. I'm just happy to be on the field." The Whitecaps had been monitoring Serban's progress closely at UBC during his rookie season, with the young defender emailing reports after every game around how he did, and where and how much he'd played. The 'Caps clearly liked what they saw and with their new USL team finally sorted, Serban became one of the first six players added to the inaugural WFC2 roster. Leaving college early to head to the pro ranks is always a tough decision for a young player, especially when you look at the numbers that then go on to make it in the game. In Serban's case, however, it was a decision made a lot easier not only by the fact that he has history with the club, but because he's not actually leaving UBC or the Thunderbirds to join WFC2. "It wasn't a hard decision because I'd been with the Residency Whitecaps," Serban told us. "Now to move on to the next stage of the Whitecaps is definitely a great opportunity for me. At the same time, I can still continue playing for UBC once the USL season is done because CIS eligibility is not like NCAA." It's the perfect arrangement and one which could see a number of top young Canadian players in the future shunning the American collegiate system to stay within the CIS one in Canada. They then have the best of both worlds as they try and make a go of it in the pro ranks, while getting an education at the same time. That's not to say that it will be easy to juggle school with travelling all over North America. Serban is still in his first year at UBC, studying business. He'll treat the rest of this year as a gauge as to how he'll progress with that balance going forward. "I'm currently still enrolled and doing courses and coming to training every day and working hard here," Serban said. "Next year I'll probably lighten the course load if I'm going to continue here because it'll get difficult. "It's good because I can continue slowly with my degree and continue working hard with my soccer and hopefully making it one day to MLS." That work ethic and desire to continue to learn and develop has impressed the Whitecaps, but it also was part of the reason that Rob Gale decided to bring Serban into the Canadian U20 set-up. Serban was called into the Canada camp for three friendlies in November, coming on as a sub against England before starting against Russia and the US in the right back position. Gale liked what he saw and Serban was not only named in Canada's squad for the FIFA U20 World Cup qualifiers in Jamaica in January, he started and played the full 90 minutes in all five games. "He's done very very well with us," Gale said of Serban on a recent conference call with media. "He's had the experience in Europe. He's a talented lad, he's a good one v one defender and he's proved himself that he can handle the international matches. "As a full back, first and foremost, you have to be a good one v one defender and I think he's got that. He's a good game player. He raises himself to the occasion. He can also use the ball very well. He seems level headed. Nothing seems to phase him on or off of the field, which I like. He's composed on the ball. He's good quality." While Canada may like to go with players from Unattached FC and the odd NCAA player like Cyle Larin, you don't often see CIS players getting a look, and Serban admits that the initial call and inclusion in the Canadian squad came as something of a surprise. "It definitely did a little," Serban admitted. "I got an email asking me to sign some Canadian Association form. I wasn't too sure what this all meant but when they called me for my first camp I knew I had to work hard and take the opportunity given, because it was short and not too long before the World Cup qualifying. I was definitely surprised but I tried to take the opportunity as best as I could." As great an opportunity as it was, the qualifying campaign ended poorly as we all sadly know. "The experience was great," Serban told us. "Getting to work with all those great coaches. Rob Gale, Ante Jazic and Paul Stalteri. They had a whole staff that prepared us really well for every game and they put a lot of detail in to it. The teams we played against were all fantastic teams, so it was definitely a challenge. We knew we had to step our game up. Obviously it didn't work out too well but it was a great experience. It's just too bad that we couldn't qualify." As disappointing as it was, and still it, Serban and the rest of the players will learn from it and hopefully he's starting off on a road to successes with the Whitecaps. Serban's had an interesting footballing journey. He moved to Calgary with his family from Romania at the age of two and by the age of 12 was already shining at provincial youth level in Alberta. The European connection helped him secure several training stints in Spain, Germany and Romania and a lot of what he learned there has helped shape his game and work ethic today. "It definitely helped improve my game," Serban told us about what those European experiences taught and meant to him. "What I noticed there compared to when I was training here when I was younger, was that over there, every session they go 100% working hard. When I was younger here, the training sessions were taking it a little easier and then in games going flat out. "So it definitely helped seeing how the players went 100% every practice and that definitely helped improve me and my game, going every practice full on and then that transfers into the game." But after all his travels, Vancouver is now Serban's new home, albeit one with several familiar faces. Playing his youth soccer in Calgary with the Chinooks, Serban was a teammate with Marco Carducci and regularly played against Jackson Farmer, Mitch Piraux and Sam Adekugbe. Having those guys around him again in WFC2 (and previously with the Residency) and the Canadian team has helped him settle in and it's a like a home from home for all the guys. All of which will help the team in the long run. "It feels great," Serban said. "When I was younger I played with Carducci on the same team and against Mitch, Jackson, Sam as well. It's just great to come in here and know all these players. They definitely helped me feel welcome right away. It just felt that I meshed in with the group quicker." It's the kind of chemistry that will give WFC2 a little edge over some of the more experienced and older teams at times this season. It's quite the Calgary connection and you wouldn't bet against seeing all of them again on the Whitecaps MLS squad in the future either.
  23. Rosenlund has spent the past five years in the league with Rochester Rhinos, scoring 11 goals in 124 matches for the USL side. He knows the league. He knows the teams and style of play required to do well in it. It's an important pieceto have in the inexperienced WFC2 locker room and a key reason as to why Koch has brought him home to the Whitecaps. "I don't know the exact reasons, but I'm pretty sure that that was one of the reasons that Alan brought me in," Rosenlund told AFTN. "I was on a young team last year with Rochester, I captained the side. I've been in the league five years, I've played professionally seven years now. I feel like I can help the young guys. "This league is obviously below MLS, but there's some good teams in this league with men. So hopefully I can give some leadership and expertise on how teams play and hopefully I'm able to help the younger guys out." Born and raised in Port Coquitlam, Rosenlund was named BC 'Soccer Athlete of the Year' in 2003 before making the move to the NCAA with Santa Barbara Gauchos. After leaving school early he plied his trade in Sweden, Toronto and Rochester, and apart from a brief recent stint with Vancouver Metro Soccer League (VMSL) side Surrey United Firefighters, this will be Rosenlund's first chance to play for a team in his home province. But he's finally home. "It's an awesome feeling," Rosenlund told us about the opportunity be back playing in BC. "I haven't played at home since I was basically 17, 18. I was in school in Santa Barbara for three years, then Sweden for a year, then Toronto for a year, then the last five in Rochester. It's definitely good to be in your back yard for family and friends." Rosenlund now returns home with a wealth of experience under his belt, including a season in MLS with Toronto FC in 2008 which saw him make eight appearances and play 347 minutes for the club, three of them starts, scoring in the 3-1 home loss to Chivas that September. So what was it that's brought him back to Vancouver now at this stage of his career? "I'm a little older now," Rosenlund said. "I was at Rochester the last five years and I kind of thought it was time to try and come home, especially with Vancouver Whitecaps having a USL team now. The opportunity came up so that I could play here and I wanted to be close to family and friends. "I know it's going to be a young team. I'm 28 now. I feel like I can give some experience to the younger guys and hopefully pass some wisdom on to them." You don't really want to call a 28-year-old a veteran, but he is certainly the old guy on the team! It's a role that Rosenlund is comfortable with, but just what kind of playing role can we expect to see from him this season? "I generally play central midfielder, holding, box to box, anything like that," Rosenlund told us. "It's only a week in, so I have no idea what my actual role will be but whatever it is, I'm up for it and just really excited for the season to get going to be honest." Although it hasn't been officially confirmed, one role Rosenlund will almost certainly have is that of being the WFC2 captain. He wore the armband when he came on for the second half in the team's first preseason friendly against UBC on Monday night. It's still very early days in the camp. The players are still getting to know each other and how everyone plays, but from what Rosenlund has seen so far, and from his experience in the league, Rosenlund has no doubts that this Whitecaps team has what it take to compete with the best teams in USL. "I think we'll do well. Technically, I think we'll be one of the better teams in the league. LA Galaxy II were the first MLS team to have a team last year. They're all very technically gifted and they were a very tough team to play. "This league generally is very athletic, very high paced, high pressure, so if we're able to pass the ball away if we can around this pressure then I think we'll do very well. With a young team, playing against men at set pieces will be a big thing that we'll have to work on, but the talent's definitely there." Talent and the opportunity now to display it at a top level. It's certainly a different footballing environment for young Canadian players to that faced by Rosenlund as a 17-year-old in 2004. Taking the college route as your next development step as a youth player brings mixed reactions from fans and pundits alike these days. But there weren't all that many other options floating about back then for talented young players in BC. For Rosenlund, heading to NCAA with Santa Barbara was the best thing he could have done, as not only did it help hone his skills, it also saw him get a good grounding for the professional game due to the crowds that the Californian university draws (see our GROUNDHOPPING feature on Santa Barbara for more details) and the atmosphere and pressure that comes with that. "The experience there was unbelievable," Rosenlund enthused. "Going in, I was lucky and fortunate that there were two other BC boys that went down with me, Myles Davis and Andrew Proctor. "I'd watched college games before and each team maybe got 1000 to 2000 fans. When I was recruited, they had no football team, the basketball team wasn't very good at that point when I was there, so soccer was really the main team and we got between 4000 and 7 to 8000 a game. It was kind of the thing to do at the school, to go and watch the games. "And playoff games, in 2004, my freshman year, we hosted an Elite 8 game and there was 15000 so that was a surreal experience. It definitely prepared me for the pro ranks." Rosenlund's rookie season with the Gauchos was something special as Santa Barbara defied the odds to make it to the 2004 NCAA College Cup Championship game against Indiana. With the teams tied at 1-1 after extra time, the game headed to a penalty shootout. The Gauchos lost it 3-2, to a Hoosier side with the soon-to-be Whitecaps legend Jay Nolly in goal, obviously wearing his magic hat even back then and coming up with two big saves. A tough loss to take but almost as unexpectedly, the Gauchos bounced back and two years later an unseeded Santa Barbara and Rosenlund got to lift College Cup silverware following a 2-1 win over UCLA in the Championship game. Rosenlund provided the assist on the first goal and also saw an effort crash off the post. It was an occasion that will always live with him and the whole experience down in Santa Barbara is one that he feels set up his pro career perfectly. "Losing in the final that year on penalty kicks was heartbreaking," Rosenlund told us. "I was kind of told that that's probably not going to happen again, making the final. Then two years later we kept a lot of the guys and we won it in 2006. "We hosted another Elite 8 game that year and there was 15000, so it definitely helped playing in front of people. It's one thing when you're playing in front of 10,20 people. You're not scared to make a mistake. When you're playing in front of 10 or 15000 people, it's a little more pressure when you get the ball in your end and you give the ball away. "It's a little different but it definitely prepared me a bit for the pro game. I had a surreal experience there. It was definitely a good experience." Whether Rosenlund would have had that experience had a MLS/USL style set-up existed in 2004, no-one can say. The college option would still have existed, but the lure of playing pro with your hometown team would always have been strong. All he knows is that he wished such a set up had been in place when he made the move to MLS with TFC in 2008. "This is great for the young guys," Rosenlund said of the current set-up. "When I was at Toronto, there was nothing like this. 30 guys on a squad, so unless there was an injury, you really had no chance to play. This is a great opportunity for them." Opportunities will certainly knock for all the young guys on the WFC2 squad this season and Rosenlund has seen what a springboard USL can be for the players that perform, especially those on the MLS roster who drop down to get gametime. His advice to all of his new young teammates is to go out there and make a name for themselves. "The best example is a couple of years ago Dom Dwyer was on loan from Kansas City with Orlando" he added. "He wasn't going to get a chance with the first team, he came in and scored 17 or 18 goals and now he's starting for Kansas City and might even be getting called into the US team soon. So it's definitely a very good chance for these young guys to show the Whitecaps and the league how they can play." And what of Rosenlund himself? Does he still harbour hopes of playing in Major League Soccer again one day? At his age, he feels it's unlikely, but never say never. "Any pro wants to play at the highest level that they can play at," he readily admits. "Obviously if I got asked to go up, I would definitely say yes. Any professional would. But I know at my age it probably won't happen but you never know, right. I'm just going to come out every day and do my best. "You never know what can happen. I think at this point, for soccer, 28 is considered old but I feel that I'm in the prime of my career. I feel like I'm smarter than I was a few year ago. I'm still fit. I feel that I can definitely play at this level so you never know. We'll see what happens."
  24. The game ended 0-0, with both teams having their chances. UBC shaded the first half, with 'Caps goalkeeper Spencer Richey being forced into a couple of big saves, while Caleb Clarke had WFC2's best chance, sprinting clear before drilling low into Thunderbirds keeper Luke O'Shea. The Whitecaps went with nearly an entirely different team for the second half, and dominated proceedings. Bustos was particularly impressive and creating a number of chances and having a shot cleared off the line after a mazy run past a number of UBC defenders and the goalkeeper. It deserved a goal. Kianz Froese also had an effort scrambled off the goalline and the 'Caps had a number of chances fly narrowly past the post but couldn't find the back of the net. For a first run out of his squad, Koch was happy with a lot of what he saw against a talented and well organised UBC side joking with AFTN after the match that "we've got a bunch of guys who really don't know each others names at this stage, some guys do, some guys don't". In jest, but true. While a number of the players are very familiar with each other's style of play from playing together in the Whitecaps Residency and PDL teams, most of the squad have only been together for two weeks now. That was the thinking behind the make up of the two teams that Koch put out there for the game. Despite the strong showing, the new 'Caps coach knows there's still a lot of work to do to get the team ready for the season ahead. "We mixed up our group completely," Koch told AFTN after the game. "We're obviously trying to figure out who's going to play for us come our first game in a few week's time. I thought we were good. We were organised, we were relatively sound defensively, created a few opportunities. Obviously we didn't have a sense of conviction in front of net. For our first game, you can't really expect much but we got through it. It's an exercise in order to get ready for the next game." Defensively, Richey and Marco Carducci shared the goalkeeping duties, playing a half each. Farmer was looking sharp in the right back role, getting forward on a number of plays in the first half, while Christian Dean marshalled the centre of defence for that first 45, alongside 2015 SuperDraft pick Craig Nitti. Described by Koch as "big, strong, eager to learn", Loyola Marymount University graduate Nitti played with the Portland Timbers U23 in 2013 and has just trained with the 'Caps for a week following surgery on a foot injury. The club will need to make a decision on him soon. He's a big lad and certainly looked a dominating presence alongside Dean back there, but that position has so many other strong options right now. Fellow SuperDraft pick Tim Parker played in the backline for the second half alongside Residency alumni Derrick Bassi, and both did well and looked comfortable. While Nitti will continue to get a look for now, one draft pick who has already left the camp is Canadian centre back Nikola Paunic and there are no plans for him to be with the team moving forward. Dean played the whole game, switching to left back for the second half, while Ethen Sampson came on and played on the right. The Whitecaps desire moving forward is for all their teams to play to the same philosophy. Defensively sound, fast paced going forward. For now, that means a 4-2-3-1 formation. Ben McKendry and Brett Levis took on those roles in the first half, with Mitch Piraux and captain Tyler Rosenlund coming on for the second. Elsewhere in the midfield, winger Sahil Sandhu (pictured left) got a run out in the first half and has impressed in camp so far. Sandhu has been playing with VMSL side ICST Pegasus and finished second in the VMSL goalscoring charts with 12 goals this season, one behind former TFC player Nick Soolsma of Langley Hurricanes. What the 'Caps won't want to see is WFC2 suffering the same goalscoring woes as the first team. All build up and no finish. It was on display against UBC. The sharpness and clinical eye for goal wasn't quite there yet, but it's certainly very early days for the team to gel and the Thunderbirds are not a team that give up many goals at the best of times. One player who won't be banging in the goals for WFC2 though is UBC striker Niall Cousens. The former 'Caps PDL player was in camp initially with WFC2 but has already been released and lined up for the Thunderbirds last night. Disappointing, as we've liked what we've seen of Cousens for both the Whitecaps and UBC the last couple of years and he would have added a much needed aerial threat up front. Koch has Caleb Clarke to call upon in the striking capacity, and 2014 draft pick Mackenzie Pridham (see our feature with him from last February HERE) played the second half last night and looked to have some potential as he battles back from an injury plagued year. But the 'Caps coach still has his eye out for one or two more additions to his squad, especially up front. "We are looking at a couple of other guys," Koch told us. "We're trying to see if we can get another striker. I think everyone in football is looking for a striker because you need somebody to put the ball in the back of the net, so we're definitely looking. "I don't think we're in a panic because we didn't score any goals in our first friendly, but we're always looking to upgrade, to get better. We'll work with what we've got but we are looking for one or two other players too." What Koch definitely has with his current squad though is competition for places. That was clearly evident in a WFC2 intrasquad game I took in last week, with the 'B' team, for want of a better description, running out 3-1 winners over a side many could predict would be close to a starting line-up come the first game. That competition and hunger will continue to increase as the season gets closer and it's just what Koch and the club want to see. "There's a lot of competition," Koch told us. "We've got at least two good players in every position, which is nice, and that's why in that game there was that competition. Tonight, we're playing against outside competition, so we had two different groups that played in the first 45 and the second 45. "The guys know it. They know they're competing for spots. It adds a little bit of pressure on them and I think some guys played tonight with a couple of weights on their shoulders and I think as soon as they realise they don't need to play like that and they need to go out there and play with confidence, the better they're going to be and the better we're going be as a group too." WFC2 have three more friendly matches scheduled before the USL season kicks off in 19 days, travelling down to Seattle on Sunday to face Sounders 2, before finishing off the preseason with games against SFU on March 19th and Oregon State on March 22nd. By the time those final couple of games come around, we should have a better idea of just what shape and make-up the squad will have going into the opening match.
  25. 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/
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