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  1. Ben McKendry graduated from the Vancouver Whitecaps Residency in the summer of 2012. It felt at the time like the end of an era for followers of the program, with the close knit group splitting up and going their separate ways after years of playing together. After making the decision to continue his career in the college ranks, McKendry made the move to New Mexico, where the Lobos became his new family. McKendry was part of the Caps' exciting U18 side that reached the 2012 USSDA Championship game before going down to a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to Dallas. It was a team rich in talent but as is the case all over Canada at the moment, the opportunities to continue their professional development were limited. Bryce Alderson and Caleb Clarke earned MLS contracts. Ben Fisk should have but was given a PDL one and has been loaned out twice now. Others, like Daniel Stanese, have sought careers overseas. Some still had another year to go in the Residency and graduated this summer, whilst others continued their education in NCAA and CIS schools. Although much maligned by some, the college route is the only viable option for many graduating academy players, with all that getting a good education behind them does for their future career prospects outwith the game. This latter point played a big part in Ben's decision to join a talented New Mexico team. "After graduating from the Residency program I was kind of unfortunate not to get signed by the first team, which is obviously the goal of the program and all of the players in it. So I kind of had to reassess what I wanted to do with my career. "I decided that the college system was right for me. I'm extremely fortunate to be able to get an education and play soccer. I'm really happy with how things turned out." McKendry had a stellar first year in Albuquerque, scoring seven goals, four of them game winners, and contributing two assists in his 22 appearances. That goal tally placed him in the top 15 players in the country in goals by a freshman. "The first year was fantastic for me. I was fortunate enough to be part of a great team and we had a great leadership group last year that really helped me to kind of ease myself into the college system." Two of that team were selected in January's MLS SuperDraft, with Montreal picking up Blake Smith in round one and RSL getting a great late pick in Devon Sandoval in round two. McKendry picked up the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation 'Newcomer of the Year' honours and made the MPSF All-Tournament team, before the Lobos bowed out of the NCAA tournament in the third round following a 2-1 double overtime loss to Connecticut. Making the leap from U18 level to the college ranks isn't always easy, but at least the vast amount of time spent travelling the US with the Caps gave him some good experience and preparation to take with him. As has the experience he gained playing for Canada at U18 and U20 level. There have of course been differences that he's needed to adjust to, the main two being the speed of play and physicality of playing with older guys. With such a short season and the way the NCAA rankings can play out, there is also a feeling that every game is huge, with a strong must win mental approach constantly needed. It's a mentality that Lobos' 12 year head coach Jeremy Fishbein expects of all his players. McKendry's sophomore season has continued to see him develop as a midfielder, and bring more to the table in games. "This season I'm taking on more of a leadership role, which is important. I'm having a great time and really thankful to be with the team." When we caught up with Ben following a last seconds 1-0 win in Santa Barbara in September, he seemed to be playing more of a defensive midfielder role. Has that been the plan for him to play a bit deeper this year? "Last season I was more of a box to box midfielder, kinda jump into the play late to try and pick up some loose balls. Definitely tonight I was just trying to protect the back line a bit more because we know they throw lots of guys forward. I'm kind of a little bit more mobile and willing to go forward I think as well." After a bit of a slow start and finding his feet in the new role, Ben's offensive game came to the fore and he currently sits with four goals and one assist from 17 games so far this year, making the All-Conference first team. With things going well down New Mexico way is the plan for Ben to stay with the Lobos for the full four years or would he consider putting his education on hold if the right opportunity came along, whether that be from the Whitecaps or elsewhere? "Definitely. It's something you wait and see what happens. I'm happy with where I am right now but if it gets to the point where it feels like I'm ready to go into the professional environment then definitely, I make that jump. But I'm in no rush. I think I'm in a good position right now." McKendry headed back to Vancouver this summer and trained with the Caps' MLS squad. "The Whitecaps organisation has been great since I left the club. They've been emailing me and keeping tabs on how things are going. I'm extremely thankful that they've given me opportunities to come back and train with them in the summer to stay fit. "They're doing a great job with that and I think it's something they'll continue to do as more players are graduating from the Residency program and going into other environments like the college system." Ben's ultimate goal is still to make a career as a professional footballer, whether that be with the Whitecaps or wherever the game takes him. "I never really thought much about anything other than soccer, so it's kind of weird doing the school part, but I'm enjoying the school part of it as well." Although McKendry is listed on the Lobos website as studying psychology, he doesn't think that this will be what his major will end up being. "In the American college system you get two years to decide what you want to major in, so really I'm still deciding. It says psychology but I don't think that's what it'll be. Maybe business or economic or something like that." We still have hopes here at AFTN of seeing a Whitecaps midfield of McKendry, Fisk, Alderson and Alex Rowley again one day, so we'll be watching where Ben's future footballing career takes him with interest. The Lobos made the move to Conference USA for this year and won their first new Conference title with an 11-4-2 record. Their postseason gets underway on Friday when they take on Tulsa in the Conference USA semi final, with a place in the NCAA tournament first round awaiting. Good luck to Ben and good luck to Lobos.
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