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  1. Reason enough for some mixed emotions heading into Wednesday night's Canadian Championship decider as the two clubs meet in the second leg of the final to determine Canadian representation in the CONCACAF Champions League with the tie delicately poised – TFC leads 1-0 heading into BC Place. The Welshman joined the club prior to the inaugural season after a long career in England, spent mostly between the Premier and Football Leagues, as they prepared to embark on their debut campaign. “I knew it was a growing league, a development league, and I knew also they were trying to attract bigger players,” said Robinson from the KIA Training Ground last Thursday. “For me, it was a decision made to get on the coaching ladder. I saw opportunities for young managers and I was still at the right age of 29. It was a lifestyle decision for me, it wasn't financial. And I took the opportunity to join Toronto because they were a new franchise and Mo Johnson invited me in.” Robinson made some 84 appearances in all competitions for TFC, including eight Voyageurs Cup matches and two in the Champions League – he scored three goals over that period and was twice named Player of the Year (jointly with Brennan in 2007 and solo in 2008). His 74 MLS appearances account for 82.2% (repeating, of course) of the club's first 90 matches, encompassing those first three seasons. He was one of the brightest parts of an often dark origin. But with the start of the 2010 season, came a trade to New York, where he finished his career before taking up a coaching position in Vancouver; first as an assistant in 2012 and taking the full reigns ahead of the 2014 season. Since then, he has seen MLS grow immeasurably, little-by-little. “[The progression] has been phenomenal. It really has,” said Robinson. “It makes me laugh sometimes because it's growing every year, getting better every year. Players are getting better, the cap is rising, the coaches are getting better, the support is increasing... but,” he continued, “everyone wants to run before they can walk.” “Major League Soccer are doing a good job in letting it grow slowly, continuing the process rather than going all in. [Risking that] then there would be a massive drop off, or failure in some departments, and you'll have to reset again. All credit to MLS in the way they're growing, individual clubs, but also the league, at a steady pace.” Speaking from the glorious training grounds at Downsview Park, still in Toronto after Tuesday night's first leg ahead of a match in Philadelphia on the weekend – in his days, TFC wandered the city in search of parks or trained on the previous, artificial surface at BMO Field – Robinson shared his view on the progress he has seen in his teammates-turned-opponents. “In the two-and a half, three years I was here, there was a turnover of about 80-odd players – you get to know someone and you're saying goodbye to them the very next day,” recalled Robinson. “And I was one of them included when I left to go to the New York Red Bulls.” “The club is a very good club, they've got great ownership in MLSE. It's good people and they've got a little bit of stability now, and any club needs a bit of stability. Everyone wants to be successful in the short term, and happen overnight, but, unfortunately, that isn't football; it doesn't happen overnight.” “I'm glad for them they've managed to stabilize themselves and you see the growth in Toronto, they're bringing in the likes of Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and Sebastian Giovinco. That's all credit to them,” he concluded. Whilst it may have been an unsatisfactory end to his time in Toronto, Wednesday, a chance to hoist a trophy over his former club, will still be awkward. “It is [weird going up against a former club],” said Robinson, adding, “but I've done it enough in England. I was fortunate enough to play for seven, eight different teams, and every week I seemed to be going up against my old team.” “I've got a lot of respect for the club, I've got a lot of friends still here. I'll always have that special feeling with supporters. Unfortunately, some of them won't like me now, because I'm manager of Vancouver – it is what it is. But nothing will change my thoughts on the club.” Robinson famously did not celebrate, appearing almost sheepish when he scored the coup-de-grace, a stunning header, in a 4-1 dismantling of TFC when he returned with the Red Bulls in 2010, but will he be so kind should Vancouver overturn the deficit on Wednesday? “Toronto are 1-0 ahead in the tie, so it's going to be difficult for us. I didn't celebrate, if you look at players who go back to their old clubs, 99% of them celebrate because they feel the way they left wasn't how they wanted – the way I left wasn't how I wanted – but the admiration for the club that I had was a mark of respect for them because I was here for two-and-a-half years, and it was good times.” “Life's too short to be bitter, so I wasn't and I didn't celebrate, and I'm glad I didn't.” Regardless of who wins on Wednesday, Vancouver or Toronto, with Robinson and his split history involved, it will be yet another moment to add to the growing folklore of Canadian soccer.
  2. There's a lot of chat to be had, so 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!
  3. 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!
  4. 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!
  5. 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!
  6. Casting our eye over all the fixtures remaining for all the teams, we're going with Dallas to win the West on 57 points, with Sporting KC coming second on 55, LA third on 54 and then that's where it gets really interesting. By our reckoning, Vancouver and Seattle will be battling it out for 4th on 53 points and will face each other in the first round of the playoffs. Where that will be played is very well going to come down to goal difference and I think Seattle will shade that. We also think RSL will come good at just the right time and edge out Portland for 6th on goal difference. Accurate or total bollocks? You can let us know below, but we'll soon find out, and part of it will be played out tonight in Dallas. Banged up, beat up, out of form and looking for someone to step up and be the goalscoring hero, it's all about points and positioning now for the Whitecaps, a fact not missing from everyone at the club. "We're in at the moment, and that's the pleasing thing about it," 'Caps coach Carl Robinson told reporters at Vancouver airport on Monday. "With two games to go, we're in. Now we just need to regroup, refocus, get our minds right and see where we go from here. "The focus is to finish as high as we can. That's never changed from the first game of the season. There's different factors that affect that. Us and Dallas are two teams up the top that are competing. They want it as well as we do. They're healthy, we're not healthy. It is what it is. "We'll regroup. We know what we need to do. We'll go there and we'll try and be tough to beat, with the right mentality, because it is playoff mentality now. We've got two league games left but really the playoffs start now." Momentum, being in-form, confidence. Call it what you like, but the 'Caps are desperately needing to find some of it heading in to the playoffs. Last year, Vancouver headed into the postseason on the back of four wins and 13 points from their last five matches. We all know how horribly that ended up once the playoffs began, but it certainly makes for a better mindset than the current form of no wins in their last four and only two points and blown opportunities to show for their efforts. "Having made the playoffs already, our goal now is to get a couple of wins," is left back Jordan Harvey's take. "We don't want to just coast into the playoffs. We want to build some momentum. Going in [to Dallas], without a doubt, we're going for three points. Are we disappointed if we get a draw? Probably not, but the goal is to get three points and build momentum." Ravaged by injuries and players away on international duty, along with no wins in Dallas, or any other part of Texas for that matter, Vancouver coming away with anything tonight would be an amazing achievement. It would also likely secure them a best ever top four finish and the much sought after home playoff game. Not that simply going into Frisco and playing for a point is likely to be the 'Caps gameplan. That's not through Robinson's tactics but the mindset of his players. "I don't think we've got the type of players that can play there and try and get a point," Robinson admitted. "We've got players that will want to try and win games." As much as I'd bite your hand off for a point right now, it is better to go in looking for the win, as that makes it easier to try and fight back if you fall behind. Too often under Martin Rennie's teams did the 'Caps go in defensively, fall behind, then have no clue how to change things around. The other huge obstacle for the 'Caps right now is absences. Not so much the fringe players away internationally, but the series of injuries that has decimated the creativity of the team. Pedro Morales and Nicolas Mezquida haven't made the trip to Texas. Mauro Rosales and Cristian Techera have, but both are still nursing injuries and haven't trained since limping off during last week's 0-0 home draw with Dallas. The Whitecaps now face the dilemma of do you rush these players back to try and secure points and positioning or do you rest them and save them for the playoffs, possibly giving up a home playoff game as a result? "We have a couple of guys banged up and nicked up," rookie Tim Parker told AFTN. "We do want to get as many points as we can. I think we have the depth on the road to get points regardless, but I also think that it's important that we save some of the guys that we so that they don't injure themselves further." But even if things don't play out in Vancouver's favour and they have to start the playoffs away from BC Place, Parker has no fear or concerns. "We've been really good on the road this year," he added. "Of course we want to get a home playoff game for the fans but I don't think we're afraid if we get a road playoff game at all." Neither they should be, but with that last away win coming on August 1st, that previously amazing road form doesn't quite look as formidable as it did a few months ago. Let's just hope it doesn't even come to discussing that.
  7. "I feel good after the last two weeks with my injury," Morales told AFTN at training on Thursday. "I feel good in my legs. I've been training hard the last two days with [Jon] Poli and I'm feeling nothing in my hamstring now." Just what to do with Morales heading into a crucial game with San Jose is certainly a dilemma for Robinson. The 'Caps coach had to use both Morales and Octavio Rivero off the bench in last Saturday's 2-1 defeat to New York City after both failed late fitness tests. He was told he could use both for 15 to 20 minutes. He got 23 minutes out of Morales and the Chilean looked excellent when he came on, hitting home the equalising penalty and looking back to his old ball spraying self at times. It's the difference maker the Whitecaps need at this crunch time of the season and one they've been missing from their Designated Players in their three losses over the last few weeks. "Since June, we haven't had our three DPs [on the field at the same time]," Robinson told reporters this week. "It makes a big difference. The three DPs of NYC won them the game really. We haven't had that, but it shows the depth of our squad that we're still in with a shout towards the end of the season with a number of injuries." That depth may be great but it's been tested and stretched in the losses to Houston, Seattle and New York. They Whitecaps need Morales back but they don't want to rush him and cause further aggravation to his injury. They got away with it last week but it was close. Morales stretched for a ball late on and the bandage covering his hamstring came flying off. It looked like he may have overstretched and tweaked it again, and he hardly ran after that. Robinson confirmed to us that that was the case, but it was a minor tweak that was fine after a couple of days rest and some light training. It was alarming never-the-less. The one thing the Whitecaps don't want to do is to push him back early again and risk losing him for the playoffs. "We've just got to get him fit and healthy in the run-in," Robinson told us last week ahead of the NYC game. "We just won't take any risks. I won't take any risks on any of my players, which is why we've made a number of changes [recently]. I'll continue to do that because I won't put any players health at risk." The original plan was to ease him back gently. "That's what we'll probably do," Robinson added. "I done that after his original injury and then it reoccurred. We've just got be very careful. We've got enough good players in those areas that we don't need to rush anyone." That view hasn't changed but needs may cause some reconsideration. Mauro Rosales has come into the number ten role and hasn't been able to stamp his authority on games the way we know he can. Nicolas Mezquida now has an injury that will see him miss another game this weekend. And that takes us back to Robinson's dilemma for the Quakes game. Morales will play, but whether he will start and play the first hour, or come on as a sub for the last half hour, will be down to a gameday decision and the health of Rivero may also dictate what option Robinson goes with. "I'd rather have 90 minutes from Pedro," Robinson admitted. "That would be nice. We'll try and get to it as close as we can." Morales is eager to play his part, but is also unsure what would be the best way to use him right now. Whatever Robinson decides, he's ready to go. "The decision is Robbo's now," Morales told us. "I don't know if he'll play me for the start of the game [against San Jose] or in the second half. I don't know what is the best. "The thing is to help the team, either from the first minute or in the second half. But I feel good and I've been working hard these two weeks since getting back to training and I'm ready now for these last games." The Whitecaps know they are in for a battle during the last month of the regular MLS season and Morales will be a crucial part of it. A win over San Jose on Saturday and they clinch their second straight postseason berth with three games to spare. Then it all comes down to positioning, with a home and away series with Dallas set to determine whether they get a first round bye or not. A defeat in San Jose and the Quakes are suddenly just two points behind them and even the 'Caps place in the playoffs is thrown into doubt, never mind all the talk of the Supporters' Shield and a home playoff game from just a couple of weeks ago. Pressure, but the Whitecaps are ready for it, and they've had some previous experience last season when they had to pretty much win every game of the final month to make the playoffs. Different scenarios, but Morales feels that experience will serve the 'Caps well. "It's different from last year because the team have a very big chance to win the Cup this year," Morales told us. "We're now in the second position but the team is just concentrating on the last four games. "It's like a final on Saturday. Every one of these four games is like a final. The team is prepared for these last four games. We just need to play with confidence and start to win again." And the key to winning is for Vancouver to actually take their chances. Not something they've found easy to do of late. The amount of missed chances in the final stages of the loss to New York was staggering. The general feeling in the 'Caps camp this week was that it's just a matter of time before those chances turn to goals again and Morales is at least pleased with the creative aspect of the side but knows it needs to be better. "If you don't create the chances then it's a danger for the team," Morales said. "If you create the chances in the first half, in the second half, against a good team, you need to score. Sometimes you're not lucky. Sometimes you're not concentrating enough in the final pass." There were so many breaks with at least a man advantage last weekend, with a failure to punish their visitors every time. It eventually cost the 'Caps dear, as we all know, with NYC's controversial late penalty winner. Three vital points lost and the chance to grab some breathing space at the top of standings gone. Again. Morales knows it's not acceptable to squander so many of those opportunities and it's been the prime focus at training in the aftermath of the defeat. "This week we've worked on the situation," Morales added. "The counter attack. Four against two, four against three. We lost too many chances last week against New York. If we score, then maybe we win and we're in first position. Sometimes this stuff happens but we need to create and score more goals." Let's hope that begins again on Saturday night in San Jose.
  8. The 'Caps led the Western Conference in draws last season with 14. Still not the highest in MLS, that fell to Chicago Fire with a staggering 18 of them. Both teams certainly provided punters with a go to bet on their fixed odds coupons. Vancouver's draw total was three more than any other side that made the playoffs, and despite the 28 points lost in those drawn games, the Whitecaps still made the postseason and recorded their highest ever MLS points total in the process with 50 points. But you couldn't help but fall into that traditional pastime of football fans and wonder "what if". What would their positioning, points total and playoff experience have been like if they had only managed to turn some of those draws into wins? It would have certainly made the end of the season and that final win against Colorado Rapids a lot less stressful and maybe we wouldn't have been Geigered in Dallas. For the Whitecaps to build upon last season's performance and do even better this year, those draws had to go. They have and making that happen was a key focus from Carl Robinson and his coaching team during the offseason. "It was, without a doubt," Robinson admitted to AFTN. "People can say you're unbeaten, and three draws is three points, or you can go win one, lose one and have an extra game as a bonus game. "We drew a number of games in the first year I was here. I tired to say if we can win half of them games, then we'll obviously be in a better position, and that's what we've done. We've lost a number of games this year, we know that, and we've won a number of games, so the low draws doesn't really bother me." The Whitecaps have turned things around dramatically, going from the highest draw total in the Western Conference last year to the lowest number of draws in all of Major League Soccer this season, tied with Seattle. That number is three, and with five games remaining, if things stay that way, that would be the lowest ever number of draws in a season since Vancouver came to MLS in 2011. Seattle and New England had four in 2014, matching Colorado's total in 2012. The 'Caps had been steady in their numbers during their MLS era up until last season. From ten in their first two years to nine in 2013. Defender Jordan Harvey has been here mostly through it all and for him, this year's dramatic shift comes down to one thing, the winning mentality that abounds at the club right now. "For me, it's that desire to win and not settle for a draw," Harvey told us. "On the road, you've seen some really disciplined performances and those have led to wins this year. But at home especially, we're going for wins every time, because draws in this league don't bump you up. It's the wins that do. Even on the road we've pushed it. We just haven't been complacent." Those road wins have certainly helped. Vancouver have seemingly found the winning formula for how to execute successful tactics away from home. They've ground out results and found ways to turn what would have been draws last season into three points. Just cast your mind back to the start of the season and those huge 1-0 road victories at Chicago and Orlando. Those wins kickstarted the 'Caps season and they haven't looked back since. The 'Caps have already set a club MLS record with seven away victories this season and there's still two games to go. A win against New York City at BC Place on Saturday would set a club points record in the MLS era, with four games to go. The losses may have increased slightly, up three on last year but still their second best number to date, and Vancouver have also already recorded their most ever wins in a season, currently standing at 15. Finding a way to turn those draws into wins has been behind a lot of that. The clean sheets help too. David Ousted has 11 on the year, coming on the back of a league leading 13 last season, and he echoes Harvey's thoughts as to what's been behind the 'Caps turnaround. "I put it down to mentality," the great Dane told us. "I put it down to not coming in for a draw anywhere. If we're away, if we're at home. Obviously some of the losses we'd have liked to have drawn those instead. But it's down to mentality going in to games thinking we can win it and we still believe that these last five games, so hopefully the mentality doesn't change." So mentality, a desire to get the win no matter where they're playing and the belief they can do that all play a part but another key element behind the reduction in draws, and the clean sheets, has been the defensive play coming from the whole team. Midfielders and strikers have taken on their defensive responsibilities better than we've seen in recent years. Tracking back to mark runners, winning tackles, hitting on the counter. The effort from the whole team has been massive and several players have really improved that aspect of their game, with Darren Mattocks and Kekuta Manneh near the top of that list. Both still have work to do in that regard, but Manneh acknowledges it's an important aspect of his game and vital to the success of the side. "It's the teamwork," Manneh told AFTN. "We're doing it as a team now, attacking as a team and defending as a team. We've had a lot of clean sheets. It's not just the defenders that are defending but the whole team's come together. "It's amazing this year. Everything's just clicking for us. We're playing as a team and everything's just working for us right now." It certainly is. And long may it continue.
  9. 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!
  10. 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!
  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 Whitecaps are getting a pretty fresh Teibert back in the squad. The 22-year-old didn't start any of Canada's Gold Cup games, coming on as a sub in all three matches for a combined total of just 49 minutes. Benito Floro's decision not to start Teibert raised ire in some quarters. It shouldn't have been a surprise though, as Floro has only started the Whitecap twice in the past two years. After some friction between the pair at the start of last year, it looked like the Spaniard had buried the hatchet after starting Teibert in the World Cup qualifier in Dominica at the start of June. He even scored, albeit just from a penalty, but they all count and it was his first international goal. But then the Gold Cup came around and Teibert found himself back out of favour. Frustrating? I'm sure it was, but he wasn't showing it back in Vancouver, instead focusing on the positives from his experience at the tournament. "It's a learning experience for me again," Teibert said. "I walk out of that tournament with my head held high. Walking out confident because I did everything I could for my country. "Whether it was in a starting position or whether it was coming off the bench, I wanted to play whatever role the coach asked me to play and I did, to the best of my ability." Canada's loss is the Whitecaps gain and head coach Carl Robinson will now have Teibert available for this weekend's crucial Cascadia Cup clash in Portland. The young Canadian is unlikely to see the start. He admits he still needs to get back up to full match sharpness after having not played a full 90 minutes for a while, but expect him to feature at some stage during the game. Robinson is delighted to have a relatively fresh Teibert back in his squad, although he wouldn't be drawn on Floro's decision not to use his player more. Well not too drawn! "Rusty came on in three games, so I'm delighted he managed to get three more international caps under his belt," was Robinson's take. "I thought the game against Costa Rica, he came on and was lively. "Each manager has his own decisions and dilemmas. Benito's decision to not start Rusty was his decision. Rightfully or wrongly, that's his decision. You'll have to ask him about that." And despite the lack of gametime, Robinson feels that Teibert still has a very bright future ahead of him on the international stage. But for now, his prime concern is Teibert as a Whitecap. "Do I think Rusty's got a big future for Canada?," Robinson asked. "Without a doubt. He's got a big part to play for me here right now. He'll be involved at the weekend. "It's great to have him back because he brings an energy about him and about the place. I'm delighted that he's playing international football again because this time last year he wasn't. He wasn't even in the mix. Step by step. You can't run before you can walk." Teibert has primarily played as a defensive midfielder under Robinson in his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation. Under Canada, with their one man DM role, Teibert has been playing a more attacking role and on the wing. Confusing for the player or a chance for the Whitecaps to see one of their guys in a different position without having to do the experimenting themselves? "I actually don't mind it," Robinson told us. "I want my players to learn to play in different positions. When Martin [Rennie] was manager here, Rusty played on the right side of midfield, even though he's left footed, and he played some very, very good games. "I wanted to try and play Rusty in a more central role because I think his attributes bring a lot to the table. The way he gets on the ball, the way he covers ground, the way he connects passes and he's done fantastic for me in that role. "Benito plays him on the right, like he's played before, it's great. Part of players development is being able to play in a number of positions and fortunately Rusty can. I even played him at left back today [in training], which is good!" Some of Floro's team selections and tactics may have been frustrating, but the entire Gold Cup campaign was a downright disappointment, as Canada once again crashed out of the Group Stage, winless and goalless for the second straight tournament. Although Teibert feels that there were positives that could be taken from Canada's performance, he acknowledged that work still needs to be done in certain areas and particularly in the scoring department. "I'm proud of the team because we created chances and kept a couple of clean sheets," Teibert began. "But again it felt like the same old story of not being able to finish off our chances. Not being able to score a goal. I think we just got to keep plugging away and if we can finish off our chances, we put ourselves in a good position." But can they actually find the ability to do that? After the failure at the 2013 Gold Cup, surely no-one thought that another tournament with no goals was on the cards? "It's happened in the past," Teibert said. "You go into a tournament with every expectation, with every possibility. Obviously you don't want that to happen. You try and make a difference, do as much as you can. But at the end of the day, things happen the way they do and things happen for a reason." I'm sure we're all eager to eventually find out just what that reason is and whether a truckload of broken mirrors was involved. But for now, Teibert turns his full focus back on to the Whitecaps and he's fired up to return for a Cascadian derby down in Portland. And he'll be facing a familiar face, and a good friend of his, in Will Johnson down there. Johnson turned down the opportunity to join Canada's Gold Cup squad as he continues his return from injury. Whether that will put him in Floro's doghouse will remain to be seen, but all Teibert knows is that he can't wait to get back to battling him on the pitch again this weekend. "He made a decision not to go to the Gold Cup for personal reasons," Teibert said of Johnson. "I can't really speak too much about that because I don't know the full story. It's always nice to play against him and it'll be a battle, not only between us but between both sides." After all the disappointments of the past few weeks, Teibert just can't wait to get back into action with the 'Caps again and they don't come much bigger to return for than an away Cascadian derby. "It's a big game," Teibert said. "A big game in a lot of different ways. Cascadia match. Playoff hunt already. Rivalry. Personally, playing against Will. Him coming back from injury. Our fans travelling down to Portland. It's going to be an exciting match and I can't wait to just be there."
  14. 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."
  15. The game got off to the best possible start for the young 'Caps when Cole Morokhovich headed home Daniel Sagno's cross just over a minute in. It looked like the scene was set for a joyous and historic night up on the mountain at SFU and the Whitecaps went for the killer second. Despite numerous chances, with Terran Campbell having a dipping long range effort tipped over the bar midway through the half, and several goalmouth scrambles, that second goal didn't come and the 'Caps were soon made to rue those missed opportunities. While Vancouver dominated the first half, Georgia United came out all guns blazing to start the second and thought they'd got back on levels terms four minutes in when USSDA leading scorer, the 32 goal Patrick Okonkwo, powerfully headed home a free kick but was called offside. But the 'Caps didn't learn from their slack defensive play and were soon punished seconds later when the outstanding Andrew Carleton, who just turned 15 in June, curled home a low cross to tie things up. Vancouver nearly restored their lead when Campbell went on a strong run and flashed a shot just past the left post in the 54th minute and it was those fine lines that Carl Robinson always talks about as Georgia went up the pitch and scored. It was Carleton again, this time brilliantly curling a free kick around the wall and perfectly placing it into the bottom right corner of the net. Quite the turnaround but it only served to spur the Vancouver players on in front of the large crowd and Michael Baldisimo tied things up again with then minutes remaining, coolly slotting home a Kadin Chung cross that came through to him at the back post. 2-2 and very much game on. That goal set up a grandstand finish, with both goalkeepers needing to be in top form. Georgia pushed hard to finish it in normal time and Frazer Poulter was lucky to see his attempted clearance head goalbound but tipped around the post from under the crossbar by Luciano Trasolini. The 'Caps keeper was called into action again moments later when another Carleton free kick looked to be heading in before Trasolini tipped it on to the cross bar and Poulter cleared the headed rebound off the goalline. Vancouver were on the rack and Trasolini stood tall again to tip another dipping Carleton effort on to the bar, this time a long range deflected one from just inside the 'Caps half. But the 'Caps had the final chance of normal time when Campbell saw his effort cleared off the line and we were heading to two ten minute periods of extra time where first Nicolas Apostal and then Noah Verhoeven had chances to win it for Vancouver in the closing moments, but found Georgia keeper Samuel Morton in fantastic form. And I still feel the Caps should have got a penalty in the first half of extra time! So it came to penalties. Midfielder Munir Saleh (pictured below), who had been excellent throughout, stepped up first but saw Morton save his kick. The next nine were all buried, perfectly placed as well, and Georgia advanced 5-4 on pens to face New York Red Bulls in the semi-final in Carson California this coming Thursday. A truly heartbreaking end and Wednesday's loss will still sting for the losing 'Caps and hurt like hell these many hours later. But they should be proud of the performance they put in, the season they had and what lies ahead for them. Carl Robinson was there to offer some words of encouragement to the team at the final whistle, but just what do you say a group of young guys to pick them up after a game like that where they left everything out on the pitch? "I said to them football's happens like that," Robinson told AFTN. "Sometimes decisions are made by the gentleman up above that you don't agree with and it's important you learn from these occasions and these times and these moments. "But more importantly they had all their loved ones in the crowd supporting them. I said to them when I'm finished talking go over there and give them a hug because they're the ones that will be there for you through thick and thin, whether things go well or not. "And I said, they should be proud of themselves because they did everything to win the game. Unfortunately the penalty shoot-out, as we found out last year in the Amway Cup when Toronto beat us at home, they didn't deserve to beat us, they did, it happens. But it's how you grow as a player from that." And although it may not feel like it right now, this game will be a great moment of growth for all of the players and teach them some valuable lessons in their development. Might all sound a bit clichéd but it is true. The loss should hit home hard the need to take their chances for one. The 'Caps could have been out of sight by half time. It'll also let some players know where they are compared to their peers and what they need to work on over the summer. It was a great team effort, but there were some fantastic individual performances in there, all of which should be used as a springboard to further develop their games. Robinson agrees. "Some fantastic performances from some of the individuals," Robinson told us. "I went round and I spoke to some of the individuals because I felt they deserved the respect of me speaking to them as a group but also individually. "Kadin Chung and Tommy Gardner were absolutely fantastic. Munir, who missed the penalty, tough moment for him, but he'll come strong. He was the best midfielder on the park for me, without a doubt. We've got some great young talent, great young Canadian talent, coming through." Little comfort to Vancouver but they lost to a very good Georgia side with some really strong talent. Morton was a different maker in goal and was solid throughout, keeping his team in the game in the first half. It was clear to see why Okonkwo had hit so many goals this season. He looked a player mature above his years and it's no wonder he's picked up a full ride scholarship from my eavesdropping in on relation's conversations! Then what can you say about Carleton? The Man of the Match, two great goals, couple of other close calls and coolly tucked away the winning penalty. He's already been capped by the US at youth level and certainly seems to be one to watch. I wonder if Robbo managed to stick some discovery rights on him! Georgia were delighted by their win, as they should be. Celebrating three times on the pitch in front of the shattered 'Caps was perhaps a bit excessive (once at the final whistle and two rounds of Olés), but it's what I would have hoped the Caps would have done if they had won down there. And if they wouldn't have (too un-Canadian?) then they need to add that side to their game if they want to make it. We need players that have that niggle to rub victory and success into the faces of those who they have beaten. Nice guys don't win in this game, you need that ruthless streak. That they also need to learn. If I was U16 head coach and U18 head coach Rich Fagan, I would use those celebrations to spur the guys on come the new season starting in September. Take this picture below: Print it off, pin it up in the dressing room and remind the guys how they felt with the defeat last season. Remind them how bad it was to see Georgia celebrate winning on their turf and tell them to make sure they don't have that feeling again come next year's playoffs. You grow and develop by using such failures and low points to take you to that next level. It can sometimes be the best motivation going. So what about the future? Well the Residency program certainly appears to be in great shape. This U16s group is likely the one that will produce the next crop of homegrown talent to join the MLS and USL squads. Half the group will move up to the U18 level next season. They've all got another two or three years of development at youth level ahead of them but if they continue to develop and fulfill their potential, you can see a number of the players making the next jump when they graduate from the Residency program. The Whitecaps have the highest number of homegrown signings on their roster in all of MLS (eight and counting). The latest additions of Marco Bustos and Kianz Froese are blazing a trail for this current group of young talent. Then you have all the homegrown guys on the USL roster as well. It was great to see so many former homegrown players, and other MLS first teamers, in attendance on Wednesday night in a crowd of several hundred. It lets the young players know that this is a Club. A Club with a pathway from the first team all the way down to the pre-Residency teams. The path is set now for the players in the Residency. They have something to clearly aspire to and that is one of the most pleasing aspects of the Whitecaps for Robinson right now. "We've created a clear pathway now, which is the hardest thing to do because sometimes clubs are disjointed and they don't have that pathway to create for young players to easily transition through from the Residency to USL to the first team," Robinson told us. "My job, 18 months ago, was to try and create a pathway and I think I've done that by playing the guys in the first team. "Creating a pathway with the USL, the club have been fantastic giving us support with the USL team, which is an important part of their development and we've got great young talent coming through the Under 16s and 18s now. There certainly is and it's not just here in Vancouver. The Whitecaps have set up a string of academies recently on Vancouver Island and throughout other parts of British Columbia, expanding into their development territories in Saskatchewan and Manitoba and soon to be western Ontario if reports are to be believed. It's a great investment from the club and one which will just add to the Residency talent in years to come, but Robinson doesn't want to rest on his laurels and stop there. "I want to go a step further and I want to try and identify these guys as 11, 12 and 13-year-olds," Robinson added. "We don't want to miss any talent because if we do, we're not doing our jobs correctly. So it's a lot of work, a lot of miles, a lot of conversations but it's definitely worthwhile because if you look at the bigger picture, we want to find the best Canadians. "It'll happen over a period of time. It's not going to happen overnight and it's a process. We've got the first steps in the correct order with our process. Now we've got to go and find more players and find the best players because we don't just want standard players, we want the top players, because there are top players out in Canada, without a doubt."
  16. It's been a relatively good season for both the Whitecaps U16s and U18s. Strange to say just relatively when both teams have qualified for the playoffs? Well after the way it started, especially for the U18s, it looked like it was going to be a romp! Instead a lot of squad upheaval and some key departures from the program hit the 'Caps hard and it took them a few games to recover, regroup and find out where the goals were to come from once again. The Under 18s started the season in amazing form. They were unbeaten with 11 straight wins to kick off the 2014/15 campaign, banging in 43 goals in the process, including an 8-0 victory over Nomads SC. Hat-tricks were the order of the day with Marco Bustos bagging a few and Dario Zanatta joining in the fun. Bustos, who was captain of the squad, scored 16 goals in his 12 appearances for the U18s before the Caps management decided that his time and development would be served better training full-time with the MLS squad that he would be joining in January. The 'Caps considered allowing Bustos to fly down to join the guys for the playoffs to aid his recovery from injury and boost the team but some last minute niggles look to have prevented that. Losing Bustos was a big loss to the team but it provided the chance for others to step up and Zanatta took on that role before he decided to leave the 'Caps and the Residency program to explore opportunities overseas in February. Losing those two key players left a void, along with losing Kianz Froese, who was now with the MLS squad too, and some others who departed for non-footballing reasons. The 'Caps struggled at first. There were a lot of draws and the goals dried up a little, before the team started to hit their stride again and finished the season with three wins out of their last four games. The U18s dip in form saw them go from the number one ranked team in all of the USSDA to finishing 4th in a very strong Northwest Division of the Western Conference, ending the season with a record of 19 wins, 8 draws and 5 defeats, for a Point Per Game record of 2.03. To give you an idea of how tight the Division was, the second and third placed teams have a PPG of 2.06 and the 'Caps record gave them the 13th best record throughout the USSDA. But a wildcard place it was and that obviously meant the possibility of being drawn in alongside some of the top Academy teams. As it ended up, the 'Caps were drawn into Group A and kick off their playoff bid on Tuesday morning. They've been draw into a tough group alongside fellow MLS academy DC United, Shattuck-Saint Mary's and Oakwood Soccer Club. The good news for the 'Caps though is that none of their opponents won their Division. First up is Minnesota side Shattuck-Saint Mary's at 7am PT on Tuesday. The Faribault based side just missed out on top spot in the Mid-America Division of the Central Conference by 0.04 in the PPG stakes to Chicago Fire U18s. Draws were their downfall, with 11 on the season compared to just the three losses, but that was good enough to see them ranked 16th in the playoffs. With 59 goals scored and 33 conceded, the 'Caps will fancy their chances of getting off to a good start, but U18 coach Rich Fagan knows the excellent reputation of Shattuck-Saint Mary's in years gone by. "Shattucks have a really good pedigree and a really good history of always being kind of around that top 16 of the USSDA," Fagan told AFTN. "We play them first and I imagine that will be a really difficult game for us." A tough start and there's no rest for the U18s either, who are back in action at 7am PT the next day when they take on Oakwood Soccer Club. Oakwood play out of Portland, Connecticut (who knew?!) and finished 3rd in the Northeast Division of the East Conference behind winners Montreal Impact. Their 10-8-8 record saw them finish with a 1.46 PPG and despite their ranking of 21 in the playoff pool, look to be the easiest opposition for the 'Caps this week. "Oakwood, who we'll play in our second game, I really don't know too much about," Fagan admitted. "We've never faced them before. On paper it maybe looks like an easier division, but again, don't really know too much at this point about them." Hopefully the 'Caps will have six points in the bag by the end of that one, with fellow MLS academy DC United the opponents in their final group game at 6am PT on Friday. DC finished runners-up to the talented New York Red Bulls U18s in the Atlantic Division of the East Conference. They're ranked 8th in the Playoff Pool and finished the season with a 18-6-2 record and 2.15 PPG. With 82 goals scored and 38 conceded from their 26 matches, 22 goal Eryk Williamson looks to be their big attacking danger. "DC United play in probably one of the toughest divisions in the entire USSDA," Fagan told us. "They finished in second place behind the Red Bulls, who we've played three times in the last four years. It's always our toughest match. They're always our toughest opponents and it's always been close games between those two. "I don't want to say that that'll be the toughest game, but I imagine it will be one of the hardest of the three." It'll certainly be a challenge for the U18s. There's no doubting their defensive strength but can they do enough in attack to break down these teams? We'll soon find out but there is definitely a confident air amongst the group. The same can be said for the U16s, who made it back to back Northwest Division championships after a dominant season that sees them seeded 7th in the playoffs. The upheaval in the U18s meant a lot of players had to make the step up early this season to play at the higher level, but it just shows the depth of talent coming through the Whitecaps Residency system right now that despite missing those players, those remaining and those who were brought in stepped up and continued to strong play of the U16s all season long. The team finished the season with 20 wins, 7 draws and just 5 losses from their 32 matches, with a PPG record of 2.09. With 79 goals scored and only 34 against, the 'Caps were a scoring powerhouse, with Daniel Sagno (16 goals), Amanda Glorie (13) and Terran Campbell (11), leading the way. They recorded two 7-0 victories, one against Colorado Rush at home in November and away to Santa Cruz Breakers in May. The 'Caps U16s ended the season with four clean sheets in their final five matches and are heading into the playoffs looking to follow up on their group win at this stage last year. The U16s also kick off their playoff campaign on Tuesday, this time at the rather more toasty 1.30pm PT (which is 4.30pm local time). That in itself will be tough, but a number of the 'Caps players on both squads have played down there before and they were all training in Burnaby playing with jackets on in the hot temperatures we've had here the past few weeks, followed by saunas! First up for the U16's is Atlanta side Concorde Fire. The Fire didn't initially qualify for the playoffs after finishing 7th in the Southeast Division of the East Conference and one place outside the wildcard pool. But they're in now! How? No idea. Can't find it anywhere! Concorde finished the season 16-12-8, scoring 66 goals and conceding 64. They shouldn't pose too much of a problem for the freescoring 'Caps. Once the Fire have been extinguished, the 'Caps are out for some revenge on Wednesday when they face Chicago Magic PSG, again at 1.30pm PT. The Magic beat the 'Caps U16s 2-1 at the quarter-final stage last season, in a controversial home match for Vancouver that had to be played south of the border in Bellingham due to passport issues for the Chicago side and featured some dodgy refereeing calls. Chicago Magic finished 4th in the Mid-America Division of the Central Conference this season with a 12-6-9 record and 42 goals for and 32 against. That sees them as the 5th wildcard team, so the 'Caps are favourites to get that revenge. The final group game is on Friday at 8.15am, so at least they'll have it a bit cooler when they take on Arsenal. The Californian Gunners finished runners up to the LA Galaxy in the Southwest Division of the West Conference with a 21-12-6 record. The Norco based side banged in 57 goals and conceded 34, ending up with 15th placed ranking in the playoff mix. The 'Caps already know the danger that Arsenal can be, with the Californians serving up the 'Caps first defeat of the season in October and that 1-0 away loss was to be the only match the U16's lost in their first 14 games. On paper, the U16's look to have a fairly easy group. But as we've said numerous times before, football's played on grass (or turf!) and not paper. You don't want to take anything for granted but at the same time, this group of players should have the self-confidence and belief that they have what it takes to advance to the quarter-finals for the second year running. "I think we have to stress that to the players," U16 head coach Adam Day told AFTN. "There's always anxiety and nerves and excitement going in to it, but we have to try and eliminate that and really look at the black and white facts. "We are the best team in the group and we're the best team for a reason. We have to believe in all the hard work we've done on and off the field and really go there and make a statement and send a message to everybody else." But Day stressed that there's a difference between going into the playoffs in confident mood and take any team for granted. "We're under no illusions," he continued. "We're not going to take anybody lightly because anything can happen over the course of 90 minutes, but we should feel confident in what we do because we feel we're one of the best, if not THE best, in North America and it's down to us to prove it. That's not a pressure to the guys, it's a reality of what we expect from them." And those expectations of just how well the Whitecaps teams will do in this year's Academy playoffs runs high throughout the club. Watching the week play out with much interest from afar, with be the Whitecaps' MLS coach Carl Robinson. Robinson has always shown a lot of interest in the 'Caps Residency program since coming to Vancouver as assistant coach in 2012. You'd expect nothing less, of course, from a coach who loves to play and develop young players. So how does he view the chances of both sides this time around, and just what would it mean to the club for one or both of them to come home with the Championship trophy in July? "It's very important," Robinson told AFTN. "I sat down with the parents of the 14s, 16s and 18s on Tuesday night to discuss the progress of the club moving forward. We talk about young players being given opportunities and I said to them I can stand here and say we will give your son a chance and if I never played young players in my first team then they'd probably look straight through me. "I said the proof is in the pudding and the pudding is right there in front of us in that we've got homegrown Residency players in our first team MLS squad. We don't need to say it, we're showing it and we're doing it and we want your son, providing he's ready, to be the next one to come through." "The Academy finals are huge. It sets a marker for us. I firmly believe that we can go and do very well there. I believe we can go and win it. Why not? Because in any tournament you enter you want to go on and win. But it will show the strength of the program because if we want to attract the best young players, we've got to show we're playing young players but we've got to show we're successful as well. It's a great stepping stone for us if we can go on and win it."
  17. "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!
  18. 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!
  19. The first one is that old chestnut of just what should we be expecting from the team? Should we be primarily focused on results? Development? A combination of both? The latter is the perfect answer. That WFC2 becomes both a winning team that is developing future Whitecaps MLS talent. That's the goal. That's the dream. It's obviously not the current reality. Not yet at least. My argument will always be that to develop players, results matter. A winning team breeds winners. We need confident and successful players, who have had that taste and want more at the higher level. It's an old cliché, but winning really is infectious. If you look at the 'Caps results so far, how much does a 4-0 thumping by Seattle develop a player? Sure, it can build resilience and a desire improve their game and to do better next time, but it can also sow the seeds of doubt that they're maybe not as far along the road as they think they are as a player. Some will argue that development is all that really matters for WFC2. The team is a chance for players to get minutes and for coaches to assess just whether they are future MLS prospects or whether they should cut their losses and move on to the next guy. You can't get a proper look at a player in training, in friendlies or reserve matches. They need competitive action and USL will certainly give them that on a regular basis. Who cares if they win or lose, just so long as they develop and get ready for, hopefully, the move to the next level? When you're charging money to go and watch the team play at Thunderbird though, fans want to see a winning, or at the very least an entertaining, product on the pitch. How many will continue to pay on a regular basis to see a team that is simply learning and developing but not winning? That's the big question. Fans will know this is a developmental team, but will they want to pay to watch that? It's certainly a step up from PDL in terms of the overall standard, but you were struggling to get over 100 at those games and they were free. And the Caps were winning. There will be over 2000 fans there for the home opener. A great start and something for the Caps to build on for sure. But back to the whole winning v development argument. It's complicated and Carl Robinson agrees. "Results, it's tricky, because we want to win every game that we play, at whatever level we're playing at," Robinson told reporters this week. "But it's also about getting players minutes and developing young players as well, so it's an important tool for us this year, WFC2." Part of the issues for WFC2 so far is the lack of chemistry and the lack of consistency in their starting line-up. The team is chopping and changing every game so far. There were five changes to the starting eleven from their first game in Seattle, to their next game, their first win, in Austin. Now normally, you wouldn't want to change a winning team but there were a further five changes from Austin to game three against Orange County. Then a staggering nine changes for the most recent match, the midweek loss in Sacramento. It's not conducive to a winning formula. I'm not really sure it's conducive to a good developmental formula for the players either. The Caps will know that, Alan Koch will knows that and Robbo knows it, but it's a situation that isn't likely to, or able to, change any time soon. "I want to try and get a rhythm into the team," Robinson told us. "Obviously Alan does as well. It's tricky. They've had a number of away games at the moment. Three games in a week is always going to be difficult as well. I've shown with my group here that there will be players in and out and there will be again on Saturday. "It's not ideal, but it is a platform for us to get players minutes and to get players experience but also get some of the younger guys up as well from the Residency. And keep everyone happy. That's important." When it comes to consistency, tied into that is the fact that WFC2 coach Koch doesn't always know what players he has at his disposal and what players Robinson wants to get minutes until very close to kick off time. MLS players have been loaned to the USL team for every game so far. Some haven't been loaned until the night before the match, as was the case this past weekend when Kianz Froese and Tim Parker were only added to the USL squad once the 'Caps MLS match had finished in San Jose. And in the case of the former, that meant playing in both matches and having to travel the near six hour trip on the morning of the Orange County game. Again, not ideal, but again, there's not any way around it right now and it was always going to be the case. All the parties involved knew that. If anything, with all the games coming up for the Whitecaps over the next few months, the problem is just going to be exacerbated. "We want results," Robinson reiterated. "We want to do as well as we can in the USL. We want to do as well as we can in MLS. During the season it's going to happen, with the Canadian games coming up for us and the Champions League eventually well when the draw gets made. "Alan's team will be dependent on what I do with my team and who plays in my team, so unfortunately I think that's the way it's going to be." There have been some positives to come out of the WFC2 so far however. I've personally liked what I've seen of goalkeeper Spencer Richey so far, obviously aside from being beaten by a 60 yard wondergoal. Even the best get beaten by such strikes at times. Just ask David Ousted. He's looked confident and assured and has a clean sheet to his name as well. Local midfielder, and Residency alumni, Sahil Sandhu has started three of the four games so far and has impressed at times, especially with his workrate. As has his fellow midfielder, Victor Blasco, who certainly has some skills not seen from others in the squad. It is slightly worrying that the MLS players that have dropped down to the team have, on the whole, not really shone all that much. Others will start to shine in the coming weeks I'm sure, and for the players that do well, Robinson wants to reward them with training stints with the first team. "Yes, without a doubt," Robinson told us. "I've spoke to the guys about that in the early part of the year because six or seven of my guys went up to the USL team to play in a practice match and the USL team beat the Major League Soccer players 4-1. "It was an eye opener for them and I stressed then to Alan and stressed to the group that if I believe someone is doing well in USL, and I think that there are one or two at the moment who are emerging, they will be given the opportunity to train down here. "Will they be able to play for us? Probably not at the moment but I think the carrot of coming down to train with this group shows it works both ways. It's not just a downward tool where we're allowing players to go down and get games but also an upward tool where if you do well in that team you'll get the opportunity to train with the first team, which is always important." Whitecaps fans will finally get the chance to watch the new team in person on Sunday. Just who they'll see will be dependent on what squad Robbo takes down to Utah. The luxury of having a player on the bench against RSL and then play for USL the next day isn't an option for this one. "The guys that travel with me to Salt Lake won't be involved unfortunately because by the time we get back, just before kick off on Sunday, it's not ideal for them," Robinson told us. "There's no preparation, Alan can't prepare his team for that game. The guys that travel won't be involved on Sunday, so we'll have to make some decisions today based on that." But whoever takes the pitch against TFC II on Sunday, the important thing is that they give a good account of themselves. You only get one chance to make a first impression. There will be nerves, especially from some of the local lads, and the pressure will be on. That in itself is all part of the learning curve and development of these players after all. It's going to be a good crowd, it's going to be a beautiful day. Let's hope for a fantastic performance to cap it all of. And remember, results do matter. Especially when you're playing Toronto.
  20. "He's the best," Robinson said bluntly when asked by reporters this week what makes Arena so successful. "You can talk about young coaches coming through and all that but he wins things. He gets the best out of his group of players. He's got some fantastic players to choose from by the way. "If you win and you've got good players and you're able to manage them and consistently do it, not just one year, but consistently do it, arguably you're the best. And he is the best. The way he conducts himself, the way he manages himself, the way he manages his players. To all of us young, aspiring coaches, he's the model that you want in North America. So as I said, I just think he's the godfather." This may read a little strange to some. Why is Robinson bigging up his opponent ahead of the game? Is he maybe too much in awe of him and sees him as invincible you may wonder? Far from it. Robbo's made it very clear on numerous occasions that he wants both himself and his team tested against the best. It's simply respect of his experience and his achievements in the game. "Bruce and Sigi [schmid] are arguably the two best managers in the league without a doubt," Robinson told AFTN when we spoke to him about this just before the season started. "I enjoy pitting my wits against those two guys when we come up against each other. I'm sure people will tell you that I still haven't beaten Bruce Arena yet, which is great because hopefully we'll get a couple of cracks at him this year. But he also wants to learn. And games like this weekend's one against LA are part of where he does that. As is sitting down and chatting with the likes of Arena on occasion to pick his brains. "I've sat down with him a couple of times," Robinson told reporters this week. "Is he going to give me all of his secrets? No, he's not. But the way he puts his teams out is very organised, but he's got good players and consistently got good players. "When the end of a season comes and you win a championship, and hopefully one day we will get there, it's important that you build again. And what he's managed to find the art of is strengthening his group when he loses players, but not having a detrimental effect on the group because they're always in the MLS Cup final." That's exactly where Robinson wants to be with the Whitecaps. Every manager does obviously, but the 'Caps coach sees the work he is putting in now and the building process that he has underway as stepping stones to that ultimate goal. And he has a firm belief that that day will come for Vancouver. "Do I think I can win MLS? I'm sure you've got 20 odd managers that think they can win MLS Cup," Robinson told us preseason. "The reality is, the same guy's won it three years out of four and he's probably the best one, but you never say never." LA and Seattle have been dominant forces in MLS, particularly in the Western Conference, these past few years. It's no surprise as they are led by the two coaches with the most wins in MLS history in Arena and Sigi Schmid. The pair of sexagenarians are the MLS old guard. How many more years they have in them is impossible to say. Bobby Robson was 71-years-old when he was sacked as Newcastle boss in 2004. Arena is 63 right now and Schmid has just turned 62. Orlando City manager Adrian Heath is the next oldest coach in the league at 54, with Frank Yallop the only other coach to be 50+ and he just squeaks in. The future of MLS is going to be as a young coaches league and that future is pretty much already here. Of the 20 head coaches in MLS, 11 of them are aged 42 or under, with five of them still in their 30s [Also interestingly, only four of the 20 have no experience of playing in MLS]. Robinson falls into that last category. At age 38 he is the third youngest coach in Major League soccer right now. Only Philadelphia's Jim Curtin (35) and DC's Ben Olsen (37) are younger. As far as Robinson is concerned, it's easy to see why this is the case. He feels that Major League Soccer is the perfect breeding ground for young coaches to cut their managerial teeth and applauds the league for going in that direction. "What MLS does, is it gives opportunities for young coaches, their first proper job," Robinson told AFTN. "A common fact in England is that around 80% of first time managers never get employed again in Europe and in England especially because they're not right and they're not ready and they don't succeed in their first job. "MLS is fantastic at giving young coaches opportunities and you've got to be ready for it. You've got to take your chance because it's easy to blame someone else if you don't take the opportunity and grab it with both hands. But you're only going to do it with hard work. You can't get lucky. Sometimes people get lucky, but in the end you get found out, so I'm grateful to MLS for giving me this opportunity." Coaching was always in Robinson's plans for when his playing days came to an end. He's envisaged a bit of a slower route, with a longer spell as an assistant before taking on his own managerial reigns, but now that he's there, he's most certainly done what he says above and grabbed that opportunity by the throat. And he's enjoying every minute of it so far. "I always planned on doing it when I moved over in 2007," he told us. "To coach here, to be an assistant for a number of years but also to be a manger. Other questions get asked of me. Am I happy? I love MLS. It's brilliant. "The league's growing, the players are growing. The standard of coaches has to get better because the quality of players are getting better, the league attendances are rising, the TV attendances are going through the roof. More people are watching it, so we have to get better and that's generally across the board. Anyone who doesn't think they do are in the wrong job." So is there a little bit of correlation in the fact that the young manager is building a squad of young talent? And after being given an opportunity himself, he's keen to give his own young players their shot and their chance to prove themselves? "Football's about proving people wrong, as I say to my group of players," Robinson told us. "The thing about this game is that no-one's right and no-one's wrong and everyone has an opinion, but the one thing you get to do is you have the opportunity to prove to people how good a player you are. Not reading about how good you are. Actually showing people how good you are. "I did get the job last year. Whatever people's thoughts were on it, it was irrelevant to me. I knew what I wanted to do and I know what I needed to do, and I took the opportunity with both hands. "Now, a year down the line, I've still got a lot of progression with my development. I still analyze myself. I still work hard. In fact, I work even harder this year than I did last year because I know now how to prioritize what needs to be done in the short and medium term. There's a plan in place."
  21. 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!
  22. Phew! All the game build up you can shake a stick at, so 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!
  23. The battle lines have been clearly drawn. It's going to be a feisty affair. Get in the mood and 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! ** Don't forget to check out the new AFTN website at aftn.ca **
  24. "We're talking," was all Robinson would say to reporters. "I've spoken to Earnie numerous times about it. [A decision] doesn't need to be by the weekend but to be fair to him I will make it sooner rather than later with him. "We've had a good look at him now. He knows me inside out and he knows us inside out. We're just taking it day by day now." It was clear from early on that Robinson would love to have Earnshaw in Vancouver and the striker would love to ply his trade here. In the way were the CBA negotiations and what any new deal would mean to the salary cap and what Robinson had available to spend on any further new additions. That deal is done now and the Whitecaps know exactly where they stand and what cap room they have to manoeuvre with. "I think it will give us a little bit more flexibility in the cap, but we were in a very good cap position anyway," Robinson said. "I'd planned to have a certain rise anyway. What I don't do, is I don't make rash signings and I don't make short term signings for the club. All signings I make here will be for the long term benefit of the organisation, whether I'm here or not. "We're in a decent position. If the cap goes up, which it is, we'll be in a very comfortable position, which we are." That should mean a deal with Earnshaw can be agreed any day now. Robinson has previously spoken about his desire to add an experienced, veteran striker to his young group. A proven goalscorer and ideally one with previous MLS experience. Earnshaw ticks every box. With 17 years of experience in the pro ranks at both club and international level, and a history of scoring regularly with every club during his career to date, Robinson knows what having a player of Earnshaw's qualities can mean to the Whitecaps this season. "It's a very interesting option for us," Robinson told AFTN last week in Portland. "He brings a lot to the table in regards to his experience. Someone who's scored 250 goals in his career is maybe not a bad option to have coming off the bench now and again. "He's also a great guy. You see him talking to the younger lads here and the guys have already taken to him as well." And it's that desire to impart knowledge to the younger guys in the group that is also very appealing to the Whitecaps. When we spoke with Earnshaw a couple of weeks ago, he spoke of his eagerness to share what he's picked up in the game over the years, telling us "I find myself giving what I’ve learnt and what I think with more inexperienced players". It's not just talking the talk to earn a contract, Earnshaw has been showing it in abundance in his short time at the club. On Wednesday he was a very active part of the coaching team at WFC2 training, assisting Alan Koch. It was clear the players were keenly listening to his advice and for me was just another sign of what Earnshaw will offer the Whitecaps this season. "He asked me if he could do it and because of my background and the opportunities I was given at New York under Hans Backe, I want to give something back to players as well," Robinson told us. "I did it with Kenny when he was here for a short time and I'll do it with Robert. "He's going through his coaching qualifications. He's getting a certain number of hours in that he needs. It's something that he wants to do and I'll help him with that, whether he's here or whether he's not here. "But a lad who's scored 250 goals in his career has certainly got some experience that he can pass on to a team that apparently doesn't score enough goals." If Earnshaw and the Caps can get a deal done within the next 24 hours it will mean that we could see the Welshman take the pitch against his former team Toronto on Saturday. It's another interesting storyline to add to the First Kick clash. And one thing I think we've all seen over the years is former players coming back to haunt their old clubs. Let's hope that continues at BC Place at the weekend.
  25. 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!
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