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  1. McKendry underwent surgery for a meniscal tear of his left knee in August. The recovery took a little longer than hoped and the 23-year-old was still rehabbing when the 'Caps preseason camp got underway in January and didn't make his first USL appearance of the season until week two, when he came on as a late second half sub in Portland. But after a lot of hard work and patience, McKendry is back to his best and keen to make an impact in Wednesday's match with the Fury. "The first thing that comes to mind is that it's an opportunity for me to showcase myself," McKendry told AFTN. "I've developed a lot, even over the time when I was injured, I was watching, studying the first team games and trying to get better, even though I was not playing. Now, I'm looking forward to being involved and getting some opportunities." McKendry has looked excellent for WFC2 so far this season, scoring two goals in his six appearances to date, both of them cracking strikes. A lot of players take a little bit of time to readjust to the game when they come back from a long term injury, but McKendry has looked to be even sharper and hungrier than he was before. He looks to have moved up another level and more than ready for MLS minutes. "I think I've just matured a little bit," McKendry told us. "That's been the biggest thing. Last season I think I was a little bit, maybe, overly anxious at times. Now, it's clear to me what I bring to this club and where I can be successful from the midfield position." Robinson has long been an admirer of the Residency alumni. That was what triggered his desire to get McKendry to come out of college a year early and sign a MLS deal. He's previously told us that he fully believes that the midfielder has what it takes to become a MLS staple for the club in years to come, something which his USL coach, Alan Koch, also has no doubts about. "We haven't seen Ben as much as we would have liked," Koch told AFTN after Sunday's draw with Real Monarchs. "He's still been struggling to get through a couple of knocks, then going away with the national team. I thought today he was very, very industrious. He was wanting to get on the ball, he brought a lot of energy to the field. He was one of our best players through the 60 minutes that he played, which is great. "We continue to see him improve and the more performances that he puts in like today, the more questions he'll ask of Robbo and hopefully get a chance in the first team at some stage." McKendry's recent performances have also seen him back in the Canadian fold for the first time in over two years. Having previously worn the red and white of Canada at U18 and U20 level, McKendry hasn't been involved with the national team program since being part of the U20 team that took part in the CONCACAF U20 Championship in Mexico in February 2013. He scored a goal in the 5-1 win over Nicaragua in his only appearance in that tournament. U23 coach Michael Findlay included McKendry in Canada's recent Caribbean tour, with the midfielder scoring in the 3-0 win over Grenada, with a similar goal to his strike against Real Monarchs on Sunday. And overall he found it an enjoyable experience to be back with the national team program. "It was great," McKendry said of the experience. "It was good to be in with the national team. The coaching staff were great and the other players were great as well. I guess we have to get used to travelling all over the place. We were in Guyana, which was an interesting experience, then we had to go to Grenada. Getting used to the travel, with being in CONCACAF, is important." Experience is all part of McKendry's growth and going through a long term injury like he did last year has certainly given him a new perspective on things. It's also an experience he can draw on to help others, including his room-mate Christian Dean, who agonisingly suffered a knee injury last week in training, just days after returning from a foot injury that had seen the centre back miss out on the year so far. It's heartbreaking for Dean, who is one of the most genuine and nicest players you'll find on the 'Caps rosters, but McKendry has been there for him at this difficult time and he feels his room-mate will come back hungrier and stronger like he did. "Yeah, I talked about it a little bit with him," McKendry told us. "A similar injury I think. He got a little bit on the knee. You've just got to stay focused and do what you can to get back as soon as possible. Ice, rest. He'll be back stronger." McKendry's eyes right now are fully focussed on the next two Canadian Championship games with Ottawa and making a case for his first MLS minutes soon. That MLS playing time is his key goal, and will remain so, but right now, he's also thoroughly enjoying being part of the exciting and unbeaten USL side. That's been helping take his game to that other level, with confidence abounding around the team. "I think the difference is we go into every single game expecting three points," McKendry admitted. "Whether on the road or at home here, we expect three points and nothing less. We're disappointed with a draw. They're confident. "The young guys are incredible - Kadin [Chung]. Tommy [Gardner], Alphonso [Davies]. Kyle [Greig] has been a great acquisition. He's banging in goals. It's a great group to be a part of."
  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. McKendry's Junior NCAA season with New Mexico Lobos had caught the eye of several scouts. He was being rated highly and looking MLS ready. The midfielder loved his time in Albuquerque, but from a solely footballing perspective the time to make the move to the pro ranks with the Caps was now. "Obviously it's my home city, so I know the club pretty well, and that kind of made the decision a whole lot easier," McKendry told us. "If it was another club or another country it would be kind of a harder decision because I don't know exactly what I'm going in to. "The big part for me was coach Carl welcoming me back over the years and bringing me back to train and making me feel that I was part of this club, which was huge, so that made it easy." Robinson wanted to add some more midfield depth, with one eye on the 'Caps new USL PRO team, and after looking at what other options were around in the MLS draft, it became clear to him that McKendry was the man he wanted and he decided to pull the trigger now and offer McKendry a MLS contract. "I watched a lot of Benny last year and he done very well," Robinson said. "You hear all these reports coming out about him, that's he's a top ten player in the draft, and things like that. Well he was the previous year, I knew he was. I just think the timing was right [now]. "Ben had obviously made it known that he was ready to have a crack at the MLS level, which was always good because you wonder what players sometimes think. Once he made that known, we done our due diligence on the draft and we thought there were some talented midfield players in there, but they weren't better than Ben. I'm not going to produce another stopgap or block another pathway for my homegrown players. "We made a decision on draft day that we wanted to try and sign Ben to a homegrown contract and it's worked out great for us and great for him. I spoke to his dad and he's very happy. I do have to thank the New Mexico guys for part of his development as they've been crucial in that as well." The timing was perfect for the Residency alumni, who had been weighing up whether he should make the move to the pro ranks now or finish his degree. It didn't take too much deliberating. He would put his studies on hold and head back to Vancouver with a professional contract. "You obviously have to bring out the pros and cons of staying at school for another year," McKendry acknowledged. "Maybe entering the draft or coming back to Vancouver after my senior year. I feel comfortable here. Having the coaching staff, the city, my family here, made it a really easily decision. And obviously the USL. They have a USL team, that's huge. So I know I'm going to get minutes, matter level it is." Having that new USL PRO team, and the opportunities it will afford the Whitecaps burgeoning array of young talent, was a big persuader in McKendry making the decision to leave college early. "I think that was a huge part of it," McKendry admits. "A lot of college guys go into this environment and struggle because they don't get the minutes they want but are obviously extremely talented players. So the USL team is huge for me but obviously none of us young guys are shooting for USL, we want to keep moving up, but USL is fantastic for the young guys." With the likes of Matias Laba, Gershon Koffie and Russell Teibert ahead of him in the midfield depth charts on the MLS roster just now, McKendry knows that he will mostly see a lot of minutes with that USL PRO side this season. But situations can change quickly in football. So can form and injuries. McKendry also knows that he is coming to a club and playing under a manager that likes to give the younger players chances and opportunities in first team action. "Carl's big on playing young players. For a guy like me that's a bonus and that excites me cos I know I'm going to get the opportunities to play, which is huge. "There's going to be plenty of opportunities. It's just about taking it. Obviously I've got to train hard every day, at preseason and all those things. It's just going to be about continuing to work, learning from the older guys and you just got to continue to grow." With the Whitecaps facing over 40 games this season between league and cup action, Robinson knows that he will need to use every inch of his squad depth to keep the team competitive over what will feel like a very long year. Whilst he has brought McKendry in with more of an eye to the USL PRO roster, the fact that he has rewarded the midfielder with a full MLS contract is a statement in itself. "I think at the start it will be towards USL PRO, but that's not saying he won't get MLS minutes because he's on my MLS roster," Robinson told us. "I said to him that shows what I think of him, what we think of him and it'll be down to him if he takes that opportunity or not. We've got plenty of games next year. It'll be dictated by his performances in preseason and how he does during the season." McKendry will add some midfield versatility to the 'Caps. He mostly played a central midfield role during his time with the Residency, but featured all over, including the backline. At New Mexico, he played more as a defensive midfielder. A very attack minded one. Robinson doesn't want to pigeonhole McKendry and likes the options that he adds to his squad. "With young players I don't like sticking a certain position on them because I don't think they learn to develop the key characteristics of what is needed in other positions. He can play defensive midfield, and he's very good, but he's a box to box midfield player. We need goals from midfield at certain times of the season as well, so if he can add goals to his bow then I think he'll be a great addition for us." That role suits McKendry down to the ground and he feels at home wherever he plays in the midfield. "I'm pretty comfortable with both roles really," McKendry told us. "As defensive it depends who you play alongside with. I don't have any problem going forward and making that late run into the box, to pick up a goal here or there. But if you need me to stay back and defend, I embrace that side of the position as well. "I'm a confident player. I like to get on the ball and have fun." There's still a lot of debate in soccer circles about the merits of young players, especially Canadian ones, going through the American college system. Whilst some feel it gives players valuable experience and playing time, others feel the nature of the game in NCAA can stunt development instead of progressing it. McKendry is in no doubt about the benefit going to New Mexico has been to his playing career and would recommend that path to others currently weighing up their options. "I think a lot of young players have expectations that are a little but unrealistic in terms of wanting to go pro. When kids hear about the college environment and playing college soccer, especially in the States, there's probably some negative connotations towards it. "For me it was key in my development from that age of 18 to where I am now. It was huge and there's plenty of good programs in the States. You can enjoy yourself, you can get an education. I couldn't say enough good things about at least my experience. I'm sure I've got a lot of good friends as well that would say the same thing." McKendry becomes the 8th homegrown player on the Whitecaps' current MLS roster. He's also the only one born and raised in Vancouver. Does that put any added pressure on him to perform and succeed? "I wouldn't say pressure. I don't think there should never be any pressure when you're playing a game you love. But I definitely have a sense of pride playing for Vancouver and being the only guy from Vancouver here." Settling in won't be an issue. He has his family and friends around him and his previous training spells with the first team means that he's already a well-kent face at training to many of the current squad. And all of those familiar faces make for a smooth transition for McKendry. "I know a lot of the guys, which makes it more comfortable. Also, Carl and his coaching staff do a great job of making it a welcoming environment, which isn't always the case in a professional environment. I feel comfortable and the guys have welcomed me really well." That was clear to see at his first training session as a signed pro. It also helped that while the Whitecaps training camp was just getting underway, McKendry has been in full training mode for the past couple of weeks already. "I just came off two weeks of spring training with New Mexico. In the springtime most college teams do crazy fitness things. Running up sand dunes, crazy workouts and stuff. I felt pretty good out there. It was fun" We can't wrap up our chat with Ben without throwing out that well worn cliché of the hard work starts now. It's true, it does. And the only way to push yourself into the MLS mix in this competitive environment is to shine often and improve regularly. It's the key focus for McKendry in this preseason camp and he knows what elements of his game he needs to continue to work on to get himself to that next level. "You can never be satisfied with where you're at," he told us. "Seeing the older guys on this team who are kind of getting to the end of their career, you see the workrate that they continue to put in and how they take care of their bodies. "That's key to being a professional, always wanting to get better, continuing to learn, which is nice to be able to know that as a young player and have those guys as an example to see what you need to do to get better and have a long career."
  4. Robinson told AFTN last year how highly he rated McKendry and indicated that there was a MLS contract waiting for the defensive midfielder whenever the player felt the time was right. That time is now. McKendry becomes the eighth homegrown signing on the current MLS Whitecaps roster, and the 27th player on the squad in total. As a homegrown signing, McKendry is likely to have signed a two year guaranteed deal with options and although he will get most of his minutes in USL PRO this season, he will be entrenched with the MLS squad and with the number of games facing the 'Caps this year, he is fully expected to see first team minutes. McKendry was a member of the Whitecaps' Prospects program from 2007 before officially joining the Residency program in September 2010 and was part of the highly talented 'Caps U18 side that narrowly lost the USSDA Championship game to FC Dallas in 2012. The young midfielder made 20 appearances for the 'Caps in PDL action during the 2011 and 2012 seasons, but with no MLS contract on the table, and no real pathway to help get there at that point, McKendry decided to head to college and went down the NCAA route with New Mexico Lobos. McKendry explained the thought process behind that decision when we chatted with him just over a year ago. His game has developed well with the Lobos, allowing him to make the switch from a more central midfield role to that of defensive midfielder, where he has excelled. The development of McKendry these past couple of seasons will now benefit the Whitecaps. They are getting back a talented and composed DM, but also one who has a keen attacking eye and a good finish. In his three years at New Mexico, McKendry scored 14 goals and had 5 assists in his 61 appearances and 4702 minutes of soccer, most of which came in the defensive midfield role. 106 shots in amongst those stats as well, along with a knack for grabbing game winning goals. McKendry played a key role in helping the Lobos reach the Final Four of the NCAA College Cup in 2013, scoring the decisive goal in the quarter finals against Washington Huskies to send them there in his sophomore season. Having lost a number of seniors, New Mexico struggled to follow up that success in 2014, failing to make the postseason. McKendry shone though and started to get the attention of many in the college game in the US, earning several plaudits along the way. The influential TopDrawerSoccer.com ranked McKendry 7th in the nation in the midseason player rankings, and he eventually finished 36th after the Lobo's late slump (fellow 'Caps Residency alumni, goalkeeper Callum Irving, finished 15th incidentally, and Vancouver's number one draft pick, Tim Parker, was 76th). The Whitecaps have kept close tabs on McKendry while he was down in New Mexico, with former assistant coach Paul Ritchie travelling down to see him play on several occasions in the past. Robinson is a fellow defensive midfielder and rates him highly. McKendry has regularly returned to train with the Whitecaps' MLS squad these past three seasons, keeping his homegrown eligibility intact. But with other clubs starting to show an interest in the midfielder, the Residency alumni's stock was high and he was faced with the dilemma of whether to come out of school early or complete his senior year in 2015 and join the pro ranks a year from now. A lot can happen in 12 months though. Players can get injured or see their form and their stock take a dip. Managers who rate you can move on or decide to go in a different direction in terms of role specific personnel. Coming out of school early, without finishing your degree, can hurt future job prospects if it doesn't work out in the world of soccer, but you can also finish your degree at a later time. Much to weigh up, and in the end it was a no-brainer - McKendry had to take his chance and the Whitecaps were in the perfect position to offer it to him right now. There is no doubt that the addition of a Whitecaps USL PRO team has been a key influencer for McKendry to leave college in his Junior year. Whereas other homegrown talents like Bryce Alderson and Philippe Davies have been stunted and frustrated by the lack of opportunities and key competitive development minutes, the new 'Caps team guarantees McKendry much-needed regular playing time at some level. With the first team having over 40 games this season in MLS, Canadian Championship and CONCACAF Champions League action, McKendry will feature at some stage, but as talented as he is and as highly as the 'Caps rate him, there is a lot of work ahead. McKendry is coming to a Whitecaps MLS squad that isn't exactly short on defensive midfield talent. Whereas Carl Robinson went with a regular two-man defensive shield last season in a 4-2-3-1 line-up, he is expected to go more with a 4-4-2 diamond formation this term. Matias Laba clearly has that job, with Gershon Koffie and then Russell Teibert looking to be back ups. McKendry is clearly the number one DM for the USL PRO team now and will gain valuable experience playing there at the next level up for him. Opportunities in the first team will be scant, but there will be injuries, there will be suspensions, there will be players rested and there will be games where Robinson looks to return to that two man shield. So for those that haven't seen him play, how would we rate McKendry in terms of Whitecaps prospects? Better than Bryce Alderson in the DM slot has always been my opinion of McKendry and that hasn't changed. The fact that he can bring an attacking and goalscoring threat to the defensive midfield role is a big plus, and don't forget he can also play other midfield roles. He's bringing versatility and hunger with him. It's certainly a depth and strength upgrade to what the Whitecaps had last year. Having watched a lot of his New Mexico games these past couple of years, including a couple in person, he can make a team tick. At 21, he's coming in at a great age and he's had excellent experiences and performances at USSDA, college and international levels. Now comes the next step. Robinson will give him chances to show his worth both in preseason and as the season progresses. As he's said to all his young players, they'll get their chances, it's then up to them to take them. That applies to McKendry now and we're delighted for him.
  5. Ben McKendry graduated from the Vancouver Whitecaps Residency in the summer of 2012. It felt at the time like the end of an era for followers of the program, with the close knit group splitting up and going their separate ways after years of playing together. After making the decision to continue his career in the college ranks, McKendry made the move to New Mexico, where the Lobos became his new family. McKendry was part of the Caps' exciting U18 side that reached the 2012 USSDA Championship game before going down to a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to Dallas. It was a team rich in talent but as is the case all over Canada at the moment, the opportunities to continue their professional development were limited. Bryce Alderson and Caleb Clarke earned MLS contracts. Ben Fisk should have but was given a PDL one and has been loaned out twice now. Others, like Daniel Stanese, have sought careers overseas. Some still had another year to go in the Residency and graduated this summer, whilst others continued their education in NCAA and CIS schools. Although much maligned by some, the college route is the only viable option for many graduating academy players, with all that getting a good education behind them does for their future career prospects outwith the game. This latter point played a big part in Ben's decision to join a talented New Mexico team. "After graduating from the Residency program I was kind of unfortunate not to get signed by the first team, which is obviously the goal of the program and all of the players in it. So I kind of had to reassess what I wanted to do with my career. "I decided that the college system was right for me. I'm extremely fortunate to be able to get an education and play soccer. I'm really happy with how things turned out." McKendry had a stellar first year in Albuquerque, scoring seven goals, four of them game winners, and contributing two assists in his 22 appearances. That goal tally placed him in the top 15 players in the country in goals by a freshman. "The first year was fantastic for me. I was fortunate enough to be part of a great team and we had a great leadership group last year that really helped me to kind of ease myself into the college system." Two of that team were selected in January's MLS SuperDraft, with Montreal picking up Blake Smith in round one and RSL getting a great late pick in Devon Sandoval in round two. McKendry picked up the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation 'Newcomer of the Year' honours and made the MPSF All-Tournament team, before the Lobos bowed out of the NCAA tournament in the third round following a 2-1 double overtime loss to Connecticut. Making the leap from U18 level to the college ranks isn't always easy, but at least the vast amount of time spent travelling the US with the Caps gave him some good experience and preparation to take with him. As has the experience he gained playing for Canada at U18 and U20 level. There have of course been differences that he's needed to adjust to, the main two being the speed of play and physicality of playing with older guys. With such a short season and the way the NCAA rankings can play out, there is also a feeling that every game is huge, with a strong must win mental approach constantly needed. It's a mentality that Lobos' 12 year head coach Jeremy Fishbein expects of all his players. McKendry's sophomore season has continued to see him develop as a midfielder, and bring more to the table in games. "This season I'm taking on more of a leadership role, which is important. I'm having a great time and really thankful to be with the team." When we caught up with Ben following a last seconds 1-0 win in Santa Barbara in September, he seemed to be playing more of a defensive midfielder role. Has that been the plan for him to play a bit deeper this year? "Last season I was more of a box to box midfielder, kinda jump into the play late to try and pick up some loose balls. Definitely tonight I was just trying to protect the back line a bit more because we know they throw lots of guys forward. I'm kind of a little bit more mobile and willing to go forward I think as well." After a bit of a slow start and finding his feet in the new role, Ben's offensive game came to the fore and he currently sits with four goals and one assist from 17 games so far this year, making the All-Conference first team. With things going well down New Mexico way is the plan for Ben to stay with the Lobos for the full four years or would he consider putting his education on hold if the right opportunity came along, whether that be from the Whitecaps or elsewhere? "Definitely. It's something you wait and see what happens. I'm happy with where I am right now but if it gets to the point where it feels like I'm ready to go into the professional environment then definitely, I make that jump. But I'm in no rush. I think I'm in a good position right now." McKendry headed back to Vancouver this summer and trained with the Caps' MLS squad. "The Whitecaps organisation has been great since I left the club. They've been emailing me and keeping tabs on how things are going. I'm extremely thankful that they've given me opportunities to come back and train with them in the summer to stay fit. "They're doing a great job with that and I think it's something they'll continue to do as more players are graduating from the Residency program and going into other environments like the college system." Ben's ultimate goal is still to make a career as a professional footballer, whether that be with the Whitecaps or wherever the game takes him. "I never really thought much about anything other than soccer, so it's kind of weird doing the school part, but I'm enjoying the school part of it as well." Although McKendry is listed on the Lobos website as studying psychology, he doesn't think that this will be what his major will end up being. "In the American college system you get two years to decide what you want to major in, so really I'm still deciding. It says psychology but I don't think that's what it'll be. Maybe business or economic or something like that." We still have hopes here at AFTN of seeing a Whitecaps midfield of McKendry, Fisk, Alderson and Alex Rowley again one day, so we'll be watching where Ben's future footballing career takes him with interest. The Lobos made the move to Conference USA for this year and won their first new Conference title with an 11-4-2 record. Their postseason gets underway on Friday when they take on Tulsa in the Conference USA semi final, with a place in the NCAA tournament first round awaiting. Good luck to Ben and good luck to Lobos.
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