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Robinson told AFTN last year how highly he rated McKendry and indicated that there was a MLS contract waiting for the defensive midfielder whenever the player felt the time was right. That time is now. McKendry becomes the eighth homegrown signing on the current MLS Whitecaps roster, and the 27th player on the squad in total. As a homegrown signing, McKendry is likely to have signed a two year guaranteed deal with options and although he will get most of his minutes in USL PRO this season, he will be entrenched with the MLS squad and with the number of games facing the 'Caps this year, he is fully expected to see first team minutes. McKendry was a member of the Whitecaps' Prospects program from 2007 before officially joining the Residency program in September 2010 and was part of the highly talented 'Caps U18 side that narrowly lost the USSDA Championship game to FC Dallas in 2012. The young midfielder made 20 appearances for the 'Caps in PDL action during the 2011 and 2012 seasons, but with no MLS contract on the table, and no real pathway to help get there at that point, McKendry decided to head to college and went down the NCAA route with New Mexico Lobos. McKendry explained the thought process behind that decision when we chatted with him just over a year ago. His game has developed well with the Lobos, allowing him to make the switch from a more central midfield role to that of defensive midfielder, where he has excelled. The development of McKendry these past couple of seasons will now benefit the Whitecaps. They are getting back a talented and composed DM, but also one who has a keen attacking eye and a good finish. In his three years at New Mexico, McKendry scored 14 goals and had 5 assists in his 61 appearances and 4702 minutes of soccer, most of which came in the defensive midfield role. 106 shots in amongst those stats as well, along with a knack for grabbing game winning goals. McKendry played a key role in helping the Lobos reach the Final Four of the NCAA College Cup in 2013, scoring the decisive goal in the quarter finals against Washington Huskies to send them there in his sophomore season. Having lost a number of seniors, New Mexico struggled to follow up that success in 2014, failing to make the postseason. McKendry shone though and started to get the attention of many in the college game in the US, earning several plaudits along the way. The influential TopDrawerSoccer.com ranked McKendry 7th in the nation in the midseason player rankings, and he eventually finished 36th after the Lobo's late slump (fellow 'Caps Residency alumni, goalkeeper Callum Irving, finished 15th incidentally, and Vancouver's number one draft pick, Tim Parker, was 76th). The Whitecaps have kept close tabs on McKendry while he was down in New Mexico, with former assistant coach Paul Ritchie travelling down to see him play on several occasions in the past. Robinson is a fellow defensive midfielder and rates him highly. McKendry has regularly returned to train with the Whitecaps' MLS squad these past three seasons, keeping his homegrown eligibility intact. But with other clubs starting to show an interest in the midfielder, the Residency alumni's stock was high and he was faced with the dilemma of whether to come out of school early or complete his senior year in 2015 and join the pro ranks a year from now. A lot can happen in 12 months though. Players can get injured or see their form and their stock take a dip. Managers who rate you can move on or decide to go in a different direction in terms of role specific personnel. Coming out of school early, without finishing your degree, can hurt future job prospects if it doesn't work out in the world of soccer, but you can also finish your degree at a later time. Much to weigh up, and in the end it was a no-brainer - McKendry had to take his chance and the Whitecaps were in the perfect position to offer it to him right now. There is no doubt that the addition of a Whitecaps USL PRO team has been a key influencer for McKendry to leave college in his Junior year. Whereas other homegrown talents like Bryce Alderson and Philippe Davies have been stunted and frustrated by the lack of opportunities and key competitive development minutes, the new 'Caps team guarantees McKendry much-needed regular playing time at some level. With the first team having over 40 games this season in MLS, Canadian Championship and CONCACAF Champions League action, McKendry will feature at some stage, but as talented as he is and as highly as the 'Caps rate him, there is a lot of work ahead. McKendry is coming to a Whitecaps MLS squad that isn't exactly short on defensive midfield talent. Whereas Carl Robinson went with a regular two-man defensive shield last season in a 4-2-3-1 line-up, he is expected to go more with a 4-4-2 diamond formation this term. Matias Laba clearly has that job, with Gershon Koffie and then Russell Teibert looking to be back ups. McKendry is clearly the number one DM for the USL PRO team now and will gain valuable experience playing there at the next level up for him. Opportunities in the first team will be scant, but there will be injuries, there will be suspensions, there will be players rested and there will be games where Robinson looks to return to that two man shield. So for those that haven't seen him play, how would we rate McKendry in terms of Whitecaps prospects? Better than Bryce Alderson in the DM slot has always been my opinion of McKendry and that hasn't changed. The fact that he can bring an attacking and goalscoring threat to the defensive midfield role is a big plus, and don't forget he can also play other midfield roles. He's bringing versatility and hunger with him. It's certainly a depth and strength upgrade to what the Whitecaps had last year. Having watched a lot of his New Mexico games these past couple of years, including a couple in person, he can make a team tick. At 21, he's coming in at a great age and he's had excellent experiences and performances at USSDA, college and international levels. Now comes the next step. Robinson will give him chances to show his worth both in preseason and as the season progresses. As he's said to all his young players, they'll get their chances, it's then up to them to take them. That applies to McKendry now and we're delighted for him.
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.