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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 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:
  5. "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!
  6. 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:
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. "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."
  10. 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.
  11. Have a listen! You can listen to this, and all previous, episodes of the podcast on iTunes HERE. Or download it for your later listening delight HERE. We also have an iPhone app, so you can now add our podcast to your phone as an app. Visit the podcast's mobile site HERE and then at the bottom of the screen just click the "Quick Launch" icon and the podcast will be added to your home screen and appear as an app. And if that's not enough, we're on Stitcher Radio Network. Download the app and listen to the AFTN podcast on your device, along with over 20,000 other shows HERE. Or after all that, you could just listen on the player below!
  12. 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!
  13. THE GOOD: Ability To Work With Younger Players With the Whitecaps wanting to ideally field a USL PRO team that will consist of mainly players between 17 and 24 years old, Koch's history and experience will make him a good candidate for this job. These players are going to have to be pushed just right, there will be times when Koch will have to be brutally honest when they are struggling but there will also be times where he will have to be more of a friend that encourages the player than a coach. With young Canadian players like Marco Bustos, Kianz Froese, Caleb Clarke, Marco Carducci, Ben McKendry, Sam Adekugbe, and maybe even a Residency player like Dario Zanatta, their development this season in USL PPO is key. This can't be like when they sent players to Charleston Battery where it was a waste of the player's year and the player and team didn't benefit from it. This has to work. This has to be benefit the first team, Residency and most importantly the players themselves. Koch is the safe bet for the front office to hire. He is known to the coaching staff and players and he knows what the direction of the club under Carl Robinson is. This can be a gateway to maybe a MLS job in the future for Koch and we know he will give 100%. THE AVERAGE: Expectations For Team I hope supporters and casual fans realize that this team was not started to win USL PRO championships. Sure winning one would be great for the club but that's not the main goal. That goal is to build up young players, Canadian or not, to succeed enough to become a mainstay on the first team. With the mandatory roster rules of 50% Canadian and 6 out of 11 of the starters also being Canadian, these rules shouldn't be a problem for the Whitecaps. But with these young players getting these minutes this doesn't mean that it guarantees success this season. For club or player. Fans will have to be patient and enjoy the level of play that the USL will bring. It will be a chance for the fans to support soccer on a level where only those supporters who have followed Residency games will know. It would be great seeing a full Thunderbird Stadium supporting, chanting and cheering on these young players, but it may take a bit of time for those numbers to be hit. Koch's style of play will be vital to both player development, a winning team on the pitch and bums on seats. THE BAD: What If It Doesn't Work What if it doesn't work? What is the back up plan? All their eggs are in the basket for this team. If the team struggles and the fans aren't patient, the support at games will drop. This team has be supported. The players will have to feel apart of the community just like the first team. What if this doesn't help players move up to the first team? Sure you got players like Bustos, Adekugbe, Froese, Clarke and Carducci that will get first team minutes this season. They will play Canadian Championship and CONCACAF Champions League games this season and get their chance. But what about other players on the USL PRO roster? Will they get a chance to be in a gameday 18 and/or a MLS contract? What will they have to do to get that chance? In the long run I believe this will be a good fit for Koch, but fans will also have to be patient and look at the long term goals moving forward.
  14. Koch's talents have been in demand before from professional clubs, so what was it about the coaching job with WFC2 that finally tempted him away from the Clan after seven years at the helm? "I've a lot of respect for the club. I've a lot of respect for the people that work for the club," Koch told AFTN. "I definitely have a very similar philosophy to Robbo. To move to the pro ranks when you don't have to leave home, or my adopted home, is obviously a lot easier. "I've had a lot of opportunities to go away and go live in another country and all that type of stuff, but those weren't the right fit. I feel very passionate and very loyal to the SFU program, but this was too good to pass by." Koch is a student of the game. Much like Carl Robinson, when he's not coaching football, he's watching it. I've often bumped into him at local soccer matches at all levels, and it's that passion for the game which immediately drew a bond with the 'Caps coach. That love of the game and the shared philosophy of how it should be played and how players should be developed. That would have played a huge role in his appointment. "I think so," Koch told us. "We're people who are very passionate about the game. We love the game. We can talk very easily about the game. And then obviously having done some work with him. "I was here last summer watching him train all the time. I guess he was picking my brain, I was picking his brain. And then going through the whole draft process in terms of scouting players, assessing players. Seeing what he values and what I value. I think we can say we're on a very, very similar page." Koch spent most of the summer working with the Whitecaps MLS squad and observing the coaches. With his strong scouting network and knowledge of the college game, the 'Caps hired Koch to be their college scout in preparation for this year's SuperDraft and the South African went to both the MLS combine and draft with the club earlier this month. That scouting role acted as a trial of sorts. The Whitecaps could see just what kind of player Koch would identify as being able to help the club and whether that fitted into the direction that Robinson was taking the club and what they saw as their needs. The two mindsets meshed seamlessly. They were clearly on the same page. "Players go on trial but coaches go on trial too sometimes," Koch acknowledged. "It's sometimes tough to bring a coach in on trial when we're sometimes scattered all over the globe. I was here. Came in and worked with them and as much as they were looking at me, I was looking to see what they were doing too and very, very impressed with how things are set and excited to be a part of it." As regular AFTN readers will already know from our college coverage, Koch comes to WFC2 with a stellar coaching record at the Simon Fraser University Clan in recent years. He's racked up 116 wins from 144 games, won four straight Great Northwest Athletics Conference (GNAC) championships from 2010 to 2013 and took the Clan to back to back NCAA Division II Final Four appearances in 2012 and 2013. A graduate himself from SFU, before Koch went into coaching he had a playing career as a central midfielder, playing professionally in South Africa, Germany and Ireland in spells both before and after his time at college. SFU is part of him, so it must have been a huge wrench to move on. Did he have to seriously weigh up whether to take the WFC2 job or was it a no-brainer? "I had to weigh it up, definitely," Koch admitted. "This is a great opportunity and I'm excited by it, that's why I'm here, but we've done a lot at SFU. We've built something. I think we've put a fantastic infrastructure in place. Safe to say we're leaving it in a much better place than we got it. So it wasn't easy to just give up your baby essentially, but the timing was right. "We've done everything there apart from winning the national championship. I wish them nothing but going on and winning that national championship. We're leaving behind a very, very good team at SFU. The tools are in place. A good group of guys, they're willing to work hard. So hopefully they can achieve that goal. But the timing was right for me now." By Clan standards, 2014 was a disappointing year - they only made the first round of the postseason. With a large turnover of playing personnel and some key injuries, SFU took a little bit of time to find their stride this past season, but Koch pulled them together and they finished the regular season by winning eight of their last nine matches. After all of their previous headline grabbing heroics these past couple of years, it wasn't the way that Koch wanted to bow out from the Clan. He leaves with tinge of sadness but he knows that he's left them in a very strong and healthy state to go on and win that first NCAA crown. "I think for SFU fans there were some challenges we had, and I can tell you exactly what they were. Justus Hogback, that we brought in from Sweden, a fantastic striker, only played in two games. He got injured and he got a medical redshirt, so he'll be a freshman again this year. If we had him, that's another 10 to 15 goals in the season and that would have made a huge difference. "We also had Adam Jones from Metro-Ford and Pascal Schmidt who came over from the Stuttgart Kickers and both of them, under NCAA rules, had to spend a year of residency, so they weren't able to play. "If we had those three players, you're looking at a Final Four team that can challenge and win it all. Those guys now will all be eligible for next season. It's tough to leave a good group and that's a very, very good group. Having trained with them last week, the nucleus was there but this opportunity wasn't going to come up every year, so when it came up I had to take it." Koch's departure will be heavily felt by SFU and it will be interesting to see who they hire as his replacement to keep the success of program continuing. There will be other changes when SFU open their 2015 season in September too. Clan captain Jovan Blagojevic will no longer be a part of the side, drafted by the Whitecaps earlier this month. That selection was the biggest indication yet to us at AFTN that Koch was about to become the new WFC2 coach. Blagojevic credits Koch with his continuing improved development, affording him his chance in the pro ranks. Koch clearly had a huge input into Blagojevic's selection and he is excited to see what the local winger can now do at the next level. "He's a guy who has no ceiling on his game," Koch told us. "We didn't bring him in [to SFU] straight out of high school because he wasn't quite ready. We watched him and he showed signs that he could do it and literally every single year he's got better and this is why I really promoted him to the Whitecaps. "I think he'll come in here and step up and do better. The sky's the limit for him. It's great for him to start in USL PRO. Let's see how he does and that goes for every player. You come in, you get an opportunity, you take it, but he is certainly one of those guys who hasn't peaked or reached his ceiling by any means. So I'm looking forward to working with him. It'll be nice to have a familiar face at training. Blagojevic was the first SFU player to be selected in an MLS draft. The previous year Chris Bargholz garnered a lot of interest and his fellow German, central defender Alex Kleefeldt, went to train at Sporting KC last summer and there was even some talk they may have taken the senior in the draft. Koch didn't rule out further additions to the WFC2 training camp from the Clan but added that he "certainly won't just be zoning in on SFU players. We'll look everywhere to see if we can find the right guys." A number of the 'Caps USL PRO squad are already known, whilst others are easy to speculate on. So does the new WFC2 coach have an input in what players the 'Caps might look to bring into his squad, or will that be more dictated by what Robinson and the upper echelons of the Whitecaps management seek? "I think really by committee is how we'll do it," Koch told us. "Obviously Robbo is the manager of the club, so he has full say on all the players but we'll all work on it together, we'll identify players together, we'll discuss them and make sure that we all agree that these are the right players to bring in because there has to be a plan for the guys. There's no point me saying I'm going to bring a guy in if he doesn't fit into Robbo's plan. That makes no sense." Koch has a UEFA 'B' licence and is working towards UEFA 'A' licence, adding to the wealth of coaching qualifications at the Whitecaps right now. His SFU side were known for their very attacking style of play and Koch doesn't see that changing when he takes charge in USL PRO. "I think we're going to be a very attack minded team, which the first team are too. We'll play possession football but definitely focus on the outcome. Go forward and see if we can score some goals. Of course we'll play organised football at the same time. Measured. But there is a club philosophy. I fully support that philosophy. I buy into it and we'll go out and do exactly that." There will be many other similarities to what he has been used to up the mountain these past seven years. He will have a young squad to mould and develop, many of them recent college players. A lot of raw talent, and some egos, to hone. An interesting mix of backgrounds and nationalities. But amidst all of that, Koch knows that he is being tasked with perhaps the fundamentally most important aspect of the Whitecaps - that crucial missing link in player development between the Residency program and the MLS first team. Something which we have discussed with Koch on numerous previous occasions was also the missing link for BC players at college or in the local amateur leagues. Those outwith the 'Caps system right now. Blagojevic is there now to show that it can be done. You can reach the pro ranks from local soccer. Koch and the Whitecaps also hope that the WFC2 can now be that bridge. The Whitecaps 2 will start their preseason camp shortly, ahead of a 28 game season, but as the roster starts to take shape the 'Caps announced today that they will hold open trials for local, national and international players on February 21st and 22nd, with at least one guaranteed spot in the WFC2 preseason training camp. It's a chance for some of the unsung local talent in VMSL, FVSL and the college system to impress. I've seen the wealth of potential there and so has Koch. Some would thrive in a professional training environment. So if he had a message for these guys and those looking to take part, what would it be? "Probably one of the biggest complaints locally, in our local football community is people saying that there hasn't been the opportunities. Well here is the opportunity. The club are investing in it. There's essentially open try outs. They need to sign up obviously and come and show what they can do, but this is your chance. If you want to be part of it and you think you have the ability, show up. "Come show us what you've got. Opportunities like this don't present themselves all the time, so it's nice to have that opportunity here in Vancouver and it'll be great to see some of the local guys show up and people travel from across the country to see what they can do. I'm excited to assess them. We'll give honest feedback and hopefully we can make something out of somebody." So as Koch gets set to take the next step on his football management journey, how does he look back what the Clan achieved under his guidance? How does he see his legacy at SFU? "That's a tough question. I'm a proud alumni. I got my undergrad degree there, I played there, I had a great playing career, I was an assistant coach there, I was a head coach there. I have a bit of SFU in my blood. To be honest, it's quite tough to stand and see that [pointing at the UBC Thunderbirds logo]. Is it a Thunder Duck or what is it, standing over there! "No, I'm a proud SFU alumni and it's sad to leave to be honest. I had a moment before I pressed the send button with my resignation letter. But we've achieved a lot. I'm very proud of the work that we did and I wish them nothing but the best."
  15. Having graduated in the fall after studying molecular biology biochemistry at SFU, Blagojevic's plan was always to attend medical school, as he told us when we spoke to him back in December 2013. But as he also told us in that interview, playing professional football was always his "childhood dream" and one he was prepared to put a guaranteed career on hold to chase. Blagojevic's move to MLS comes after another stellar personal season with the Clan last year in NCAA Division 2. He decided to head back to SFU for his senior year and although the Clan may have struggled overall as a team compared to their previous heroics, Blagojevic was the standout star, averaging a goal a game in his 18 appearances. Those numbers placed him seventh overall in goals in North America and he was unanimously voted the Great Northwest Athletic Conference's (GNAC) Player of the Year and also took home the West Region Player of the Year award. "All the goals that I set out for myself at the beginning of the season, I accomplished," Blagojevic told us. "I was very happy from a personal standpoint that I was able to achieve that. I feel that I'm continually growing as a player, so I'm excited to see how much I can now grow being in a professional atmosphere." Despite the numbers and the plaudits, a professional career in football was still something of a pipe dream for the 23-year-old. It was always at the back of his mind, but at the forefront was going out with the Clan with a bang. Blagojevic had no idea that the Whitecaps were following his progress and were likely to draft him until today. "I didn't know if they were keeping tabs on me or if they had interest in me. I was just enjoying my time with SFU and all I set out to do was to end on a good note in my senior season with SFU. That was it. I never really thought that this would be possible, that there would be a professional chance for me, an opportunity for me in the future." Today's news that the 'Caps had selected him with their first pick in the third round came as a stunning surprise to the striker. So where was he when he got the news. "I was at home, sitting in my living room. I watched the first and second round live, just because I was interested in what was going on. I knew the third and fourth round was occurring on the internet through the live draft tracker, so I was just looking at that screen. I didn't know anything about any team or anything that I was being chosen. I just wanted to see what happens." You can understand why Blagojevic thus describes the whole experience as surreal, but also as one of the best days of his life so far. Med school is still in his long-term plans, but having a chance to make it a pro footballer was just too much of an opportunity for Blagojevic to pass up. "Right now, my first priority is soccer. In the future I can always try and attempt medical school so I guess long, long term, it is medical school for sure but at the moment my main priority is doing whatever I can to succeed at this level." Blagojevic's family have always been big supporters of Jovan throughout his career and his dad is a familiar face at games up the mountain at SFU. They're also fully supportive of him putting his medical career on hold at the moment to try and make it as a professional footballer and were obviously delighted at Jovan being drafted today. "They were all very happy for me. My dad was at work, my mum was upstairs and we were all talking in a group message and they were just all so happy. My mum gave me a big hug and then the next time I saw my dad, he gave me a big hug, my mum was crying. Everybody's just super super happy and ecstatic about everything that's occurring. "The advice that they gave me about medical school and soccer is exactly as I said. That there's always time for this. Right now this is my goal and my dream and I have to take every opportunity as it comes, so that's essentially what I'm doing." The striker has clearly been drafted primarily to feature in the 'Caps new USL PRO team (which will have a 50% Canadian roster requirement), but the chance is now there for him to impress and get into the first team reckoning as well. With MLS roster spots already at a premium, Robinson has previously said that he was more looking at these third and fourth round draft picks for the USL team. But he's also said that every player will get a chance to show they deserve a crack at the MLS squad and to be in the first team mix. "I guess we'll see. I'm not really sure what the future has but if he sees me that I'm more of a USL player, then that's what I am. If he gives me the opportunity for the MLS first team, then you better believe I'm going to take it and give the best I can to show him that he was correct in choosing me for that position. Whatever it is, I'm excited either way." Robinson's message to all of his young players has been clear. He'll give them the tools and the pathway, it's then up to each player individually to take it. Some will and some won't. Blagojevic is determined to fall into the former category but he knows there are aspects of his game that he will need to work on and also what needs to do as a rookie to get him there. "I just have to try and listen to his tactics and what he likes in players and what he sees in players and I just have to try and mould myself as a player to what he wants from his players. I feel that if I can do that as much as I can, hopefully I will get that opportunity." The Whitecaps mantra under Robinson is to give youth a chance and that talent is what matters, not age. Knowing that opportunity and those chances exist is already a key motivational tool for Blagojevic. "That's exciting. It's for sure something that you want to hear. It's very encouraging to hear that from your coach that he has faith in his young players. Hopefully I can prove that faith correct." For those that haven't seen him play yet (we'll put his highlight reel video at the end of this article), how would Jovan describe his style of play and what qualities will he be adding to the Whitecaps? "I feel that I'm very forward with my type of play. [Depending on the situation] I have one mission in mind when I get the ball - either beat my player, going down the line and cross it or go to goal after I've beat my player. I like to score goals. I'm a goalscorer. If I can do that for the Whitecaps, that would be a dream come true." When Jovan first went to study at SFU he wasn't even part of the soccer team, choosing to focus on his education for his first two years at university, before being convinced that he could juggle both. "My first two years I decided not to play, then I finally talked to my parents about whether I should join or not and how it was going to affect my school, but deciding to choose to play on the team was by far a great experience for me as a player, as a person." Blagojevic told us when we chatted just over a year ago. "It's definitely the best thing I've done for my career as a soccer player. It was the best decision for me to do, join the team. It's the closest I've got to that professional environment, which is nice, and I've always wanted that in my life as a soccer player." Now Blagojevic has the opportunity to take it that one stage further and to be in an actual professional training and development environment, and he's excited as to what that will mean for his game. "It's going to obviously help me grow as a player, which I'm really excited about. I'm really excited to see what the future has for me. I want to continue to get better and I want to work as hard as I can to try to get the most that I can out of this opportunity. The fact that now I'm actually living in a pro environment and not what it was before, although SFU had a similar feeling, now it's actually happening for real. It's exciting and I just think it will help me grow as a player." We've been watching Blagojevic play for a few years now. We've seen him as a winger, as an out and out striker and even as a midfielder. The Whitecaps are certainly getting a versatile player, and Jovan is comfortable in any forward and attacking role that the Caps will see fit to give him. "I guess I prefer being a winger. I've grown to be most comfortable in that position. I can play other positions, but I don't feel I'm as strong at them as I am as a winger, but whatever position Carl Robinson has in mind for me, I'll do my best at making the most out of it and do the best that I can at it." The 'Caps have still to name their new coach for the USL PRO side, although an announcement is expected later this week. One name in the mix is current SFU Clan head coach Alan Koch. Blagojevic has spent the last four season under Koch's tutelage and credits the South African with fine tuning his skills and making him the player he is today. "His coaching has got me to become the goalscoring threat that I am. I'm very forward with the way I play and I've definitely built that attribute because of him. He's always focussed with going forward toward the goal and that's helped me become who I am." Koch has been working as a scout of the college ranks with the Whitecaps and acted as part of the 'Caps management team at training over the summer months. He knows Blagojevic's game inside and out and the qualities and attributes that he can bring to the squad. Koch will have had strong input in Vancouver's decision to draft the striker. He's delighted to see Blagojevic now get his chance in the pro game and is confident he has what it takes to succeed. "Jovan is a competitor and he is willing to work hard and absorb information," Koch told AFTN. "I think it is his willingness to address his limitations that has made him the player he is today. He has a winners mentality and is a natural goalscorer. He has not reached his peak yet and in the Whitecaps professional environment I think he will continue to get better and better." While drafting Blagojevic is great news for player and coach alike, it is also good for the soccer program itself at SFU and will only bring more added attention to what is already one of the best set ups in the country. "I am very happy for Jovan to be our first MLS draftee,". Koch continued. "SFU has had lots of players drafted [uSL and A-League], but not into Major League Soccer. Sporting KC had a lot of interest in Chris Bargholz and Alex Kleefeldt last year, but unfortunately nothing came out of that interest. Jovan's selection will only add to the exposure that our team continues to receive, and hopefully make it easier for the next player to get drafted in the near future.' That's a view also echoed by Blagojevic. "SFU's built me into the player that I am, so I'm very respectful of that program," Jovan told us. "It would be great for them to be able to bring in extra talent or to have them have extra spotlight now would be exciting for them and it would be exciting for me as an alumni now." Born in Belgrade, Serbia in 1991 and moving to Canada two years later, Blagojevic grew up in Burnaby and Coquitlam and played his youth football with Burnaby Selects before moving on to the Coquitlam Metro-Ford Wolves U18 side. BC boys on the Whitecaps roster are something of a rarity these days. Following a string of top players coming out of the province and the Whitecaps sides years ago, Richmond's Caleb Clarke is the only other BC homegrown on the Caps senior roster right now. So what does it mean to Jovan to have the chance to play for his hometown club? "It's amazing," Blagojevic admitted. "To even see my name pop up on that draft and then to see it pop up for Vancouver is crazy. To be able to stay at home with my family and to be with my girlfriend as well, it's quite something that I don't have to leave. It definitely helps. "Playing for Vancouver is awesome. It's something that you dream about. It's a fairytale coming true essentially." School, work and his footballing career with SFU and Metro-Ford have somewhat curtailed Jovan's opportunities to go and see the Whitecaps play live. He's only been able to get to a couple of 'Caps MLS games so far but regularly watches at home when he can. Having the chance to play for his local club, also brings with it, it's own little bit of pressure of course. Family and friends will be there and they will all want success. Not that Jovan feels under any extra or undue pressure as a result. "I'd feel the same way if I went anywhere. What I'm feeling, I'd feel anywhere I'd go. It's an amazing opportunity to have. The fact that it's local, yeah it's pretty cool. It's definitely nice, but it doesn't add much extra pressure on me that I'm one of the only local boys on the team." Blagojevic comes to the Caps in an unusual situation for a local lad. He didn't come through the Whitecaps' Residency program. As someone outwith the 'Caps system how does he view the experience of coming through the youth ranks locally but not with the Whitecaps and does he see himself as someone who can give hope to other players in that situation? "I don't know if exactly I feel that way but if it is that I'm giving other local kids that extra encouragement then that's great. I love to support local soccer. That's all I've had as a Coquitlam boy and a Burnaby boy. It was a nice experience playing my youth soccer and my men's soccer with local teams here." There is no doubt that there is still a very hard and tough road ahead if Blagojevic is to make it in the professional game, whether with the Whitecaps or someone else. As draft picks are always told, you've not made it, your journey actually starts now. Having watched him develop these past few years at SFU, there is no doubt in my mind that he has many of the skills needed to make it in the game but taking that next step up the ladder is always tricky. He'll be given all the tools and pathways to get there though and it's up to him now to keep developing and take them. The first step starts this weekend. Blagojevic will now join up with the 'Caps for the start of preseason training camp. The current players report back for their medicals on Saturday before the first on the field session on Monday, and Jovan is already pumped up and raring to go with his new team. "As for what's next training wise, I'm not sure yet. I was told that they'll give me a call to let me know what the gameplan is, so I'll be looking forward to that phone call." Here's is Jovan Blagojevic's highlight reel video:
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