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  1. Now 21-years-old, Cain is about to enter his senior season with the Wright State Raiders this fall. A Canadian youth international, Cain first headed to the University of Northwestern Ohio, where he led the team in scoring in his Freshman year with ten goals. He then made the cross state transfer to the Wright State University in Dayton where he added a further two goals in 19 games of his second year and two in 21 games this season just past. Although the college route isn't for everyone who graduates from the 'Caps Residency, opportunities were few and far between just three years ago, but Cain has loved his time in the college game. "It's a lot different in America than it is in Canada," Cain told us. "It's a great experience. I wouldn't trade it for anything. I've learned a lot living there and I've grown up a lot too. It's a different game and it makes me adjust. It's good." As we said, Cain will be going for PDL Championship glory this Sunday when his K-W United side face New York Red Bulls U23s at Starfire Stadium in Tukwila, Washington. After a strong season, the striker can't wait for a chance to lift the trophy. "It's great," Cain told us. "It's a great feeling. I haven't been in a big final since I played with the Whitecaps and that was years ago. So it's going to be great." K-W United got to the Championship game after a dramatic last-second win over Seattle Sounders U23s on Friday night. Cain came on as a second half sub in that game, but with most of those watching expecting the match to head into extra time, the striker watched German midfielder Julian Buescher win it late with his free kick. "Julian's great on the ball on set plays," Cain said. "I was hoping it was going to go in, but I didn't know. Before the free kick, I thought it was going to go to extra-time but we pulled it together, riled up the gang and got it in." This is Cain's second season with K-W United, but it's not his first experience of PDL play and he played for Whitecaps U23s in the league in both the 2011 and 2012 seasons. And the reason he's currently at K-W in the first place is due to another Vancouver connection, his former Residency coach Stuart Neely. "My first year I came here because Stuart was coaching," Cain told us. "I got in contact with him and he told me to come. It's a great team. We had a great season last year but fell a bit short. This year, once again we're strong again and this time we feel like we're going to do it." After that Cain will be heading back to Wright State for his final year, where he is studying Media Relations. And after that? "My focus is to become a professional," Cain told us. "I'm really determined. I really think I can make either a USL team or a MLS team. My goal after college is to go on some trials with some clubs and see what I can do." With the Whitecaps not keeping homegrown rights on Cain, he will be free to be picked up by any club side now, but he's also looking at overseas as an option. So does he have access to an European passport that opens doors for so many players here? "Unfortunately I don't," Cain said. "I just have a Canadian passport, but because I'm half Jamaican, I'm working on getting a Jamaican passport to try and get over. It'll be easier with that in England." We wish Wesley (and Adam) all the very best in today's big PDL Championship game with New York Red Bulls and don't forget you can follow his college progress, and that of all the other 'Caps Residency alumni, in our regular "Caps In College' feature come the fall.
  2. But football-wise, they've got better season upon season, making the Central Conference semi-finals in 2014 under former Whitecaps Residency head coach Stuart Neely. With Neely moving back to coaching with Toronto at the start of this year, another former Whitecap took the reigns, in the shape of defender, and former Canadian international, Chris Pozniak, who played for the 'Caps from 2008 to 2010 in the old USL days. Pozniak guided K-W to a second place finish in the Great Lakes Division, losing just two games all season and finishing just a point behind the defending PDL champions, the Michigan Bucks. That set-up an all-Canadian Central Conference quarter-final showdown with Forest City London, which they won 2-0. Heartland Division champions Des Moines Menace were next up in the semi-finals and were dispatched 3-2. K-W United were now one game away from their first-ever Central Conference Championship and the Final Four and they got there with a 3-1 over Michigan Bucks and with a Whitecaps hand in each of their goals. Polakiewicz set up Ken Krolicki's 9th minute opener, before adding a second himself five minutes later. Cain made it 3-0 in the 55th minute, sending the Ontario side on their travels to Washington this weekend. Both Cain and Polakiewicz graduated from the Whitecaps Residency program after the 2011/12 USSDA season and were part of the 'Caps U18 side that agonisingly lost out on the 2012 Championship game to an 82nd minute goal in a 3-2 defeat to FC Dallas. After graduating, Cain went the NCAA route and has just finished his Junior season with Wright State University Raiders. Lead the team in scoring in his Freshman year with ten goals, adding a further two in 19 games of his second year and two in 21 games this season just past. He will enter his final Senior season this fall. This is the second season with K-W United for the Guelph native, as he looks to keep up to match shape for the NCAA season ahead. Cain made 12 appearances for K-W last season in regular play, grabbing one goal and one assist. This year he's made 17 appearances, grabbing that one crucial goal last Saturday. Polakiewicz graduated from the Residency after the Championship game and played some PDL for the ‘Caps. He initially moved to Poland and joined top division side Slask Wroclaw, but soon returned to Canada to play PDL with K-W United in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario. He’s with the club again this season and has made 11 appearances with two goals and assist. Another BC connection on the K-W side is defender Quante Abbott-Hill Smith, who played with the SFU Clan and was on the first preseason camp roster with WFC2 back in February. If K-W United are going to make history then they're going to have to do it the hard way, facing off against Seattle Sounders U23s on Friday night at 8pm. If they can get through that, they will face the winner of NYRB and Ocala Stampede on Sunday afternoon at 2pm. Tickets are still available, cost $10 for each day, and can be bought HERE. AFTN will be there, so get along if you can and lend some Canadian cheers to the guys.
  3. Robinson gave the youngster a rest to save him for the Canadian Championship game against FC Edmonton. The Canadian was fired up to be playing for the 'Caps in the national cup but unfortunately that's where disaster struck for Adekugbe and he was forced off just 17 minutes in with an ankle injury. The severity of that injury to his right ankle soon became clear and Adekugbe hasn't kicked a ball in anger since that game on May 13th. But after a lot of work, a lot of rehab and what must have felt like the longest 11 weeks of his life, Adekugbe is back, raring to go and looking to regain that left-back role, no matter how late into the season it now might be. "It's been a while," Adekugbe told reporters at training on Tuesday. "It was disappointing. I was able to get into the team and getting a run of games. To be hit by such a big injury was obviously disappointing but I'm happy to be back. "It's never good to come back at the latest time possible but there's games coming up. I'm hoping to get back into the team by training well and just doing a lot of stuff to get back into the team." Adekugbe returned to full training last week. He's walking and running fine, and although he may be back in the mix with less than half of the season remaining, that freshness could yet give him an advantage in his quest to get back that starting left-back spot. "It does, but obviously it's harder to get back into the groove of things because the season's gone on for so long and people are almost playing at their prime and at their max fitness levels," Adekugbe said. "Now it's just for me to get back into that zone where I'm getting match fit, I'm getting up and down and I'm able to get that volume of fitness back. "It's disappointing, but there's nothing I can do. Everyone is going to get injured so I'd rather it be now than when I'm older and it's harder to recover from." Having joined the 'Caps Residency program in 2011, Adekugbe is now in his third MLS season with the club. He's worked hard, developed his game and impressed many watchers. But despite knocking on the door for first team minutes, the 20-year-old has had to play the waiting game for his chance to seriously challenge for the starter's job. Adekugbe made his MLS debut in the last game of the 2013 season under Martin Rennie, starting against Colorado for the suspended Harvey. He made a further four appearances last year, but only one of those was a start. This season, he already has seven to his name, all of them starts. But while he's been away the landscape has changed a little and he's perhaps not only battling Harvey for left-back minutes, but also Christian Dean. With Harvey suspended once more, the centre back came in at left-back and put in an excellent and assured performance in Sunday's win over San Jose, offering the Whitecaps more size and athleticism in the position. Dean has also looked good there in USL games, so Adekugbe could find himself with more of a battle to establish himself as a regular starter than he had at the start of the year. It's a battle he's aware of and ready for. "I have to crawl over a lot of people," Adekugbe admitted. "Dean played really well on the weekend. Jordan has been playing well ever since he got back into the line-up. It just makes me want to play harder and do things more positive and do things even better to get myself back into the team. Competition's all over the place, so it's not just me, it's everyone else as well." It's exactly what Robinson wants in his squad and how Adekugbe bounces back and battles back will tell the 'Caps coach a lot about his young player and the hunger and desire is already clear for all to see. But being back in training and being up to full match sharpness are two very different things, as fellow defender Diego Rodriguez has been showing of late. Rodriguez has been playing the last few USL games as he tries to fully recover from his own injury and Adekugbe is likely to follow suit and play some minutes for WFC2 in their game at Tulsa Roughnecks on Friday evening. So does Adekugbe feel he needs just one or a few of those USL games to get back into full match fitness and a return to MLS action? It's hard to really say until he gets out there. "Obviously you want to play a MLS game before a USL game in terms of quality," Adekugbe admits. "I've been working well with the fitness staff. I'm a pretty fit kid. Obviously it's been a while since I played a game, so I wouldn't say I wouldn't like to play in the USL game but I'd also like to play in the MLS games as well. "Games are games and I'd still be getting fitness in either or. I wouldn't expect myself to play 90 minutes straight away, unless I could and I feel great, but who knows?" From the Whitecaps point of view, Adekugbe's return couldn't have come at a better time. With eight games, over three competitions, coming up in August, Vancouver's squad rotation and depth will be tested to the max. Every player should see playing time, and Robinson already has his eight line-ups planned, selected and drawn up on a whiteboard in his office. That's all pending unforeseen circumstances, of course, but Adekugbe is very much part of those plans and fans are likely to see him again in first team action as early as next week's home Champions League tie with Seattle. Is that a realistic target game? "I think so," Adekugbe feels. "I think I could have been fit last week and I might have been pushing it. But we got a good result and Christian played very well. I think I could play the USL game coming up this Friday, the Seattle game coming up Saturday or the game on Wednesday. "I'm feeling pretty confident in my injury now. I've gone over it, now it's just about a matter of me getting more training. I was able to train all last week, training this week, so hopefully it's just around the corner now."
  4. Wirth graduated from the Whitecaps Residency program last summer, having joined the program in 2011. With many USSDA and PDL games now behind him, he headed to Oregon State University. Initially sharing starts in his rookie year with Junior keeper Matt Bersano, Wirth played five games, four of them starts. Despite winning three games, allowing just three goals and keeping two clean sheets, the Beavers coach decided to stick with the more experienced Bersano for the remainder of the season. It's hard to knock that decision as the Beavers made it to the postseason for the first time since 2003 but with Wirth used to splitting time with the Residency teams these past few years, and seeing regular gametime, being completely kept on the bench for the remainder of the season must have been a bit of an adjustment. Still, that's the life of college soccer, so onwards and upwards. Bersano has now moved on from Oregon, turning down a pro contract with RSL's USL side Real Monarchs to go to grad school at Penn State. His departure will hopefully open more doors and opportunities for Wirth with the Beavers in his sophomore season. He has a great chance to establish himself now as Oregon's number one keeper and the signs during OSU's spring schedule seemed to indicate he would be. "I'm looking very positive for that looking ahead," Wirth told AFTN recently. "Hopefully I'm going to be the guy and we can make it to the tournament again." With just 405 minutes of action logged last year at Oregon, Wirth made the decision to keep himself busy, fit and sharp during the college offseason by heading back to play some PDL this summer. With the Caps U23's team no more, Wirth has headed east to join Calgary Foothills in their inaugural PDL season, where he's splitting the goalkeeping duties with fellow Whitecaps Residency alumni, Sean Melvin. There's a couple of other Caps connections too, with Residency graduate Tim Hickson and Sam Adekugbe's brother Elijah also on the Foothills roster. When we spoke with Nolan a couple of months ago, the original plan was to play with Vancouver Victory in Washington's Evergreen League, but he's made one appearance for Calgary so far, in last Sunday's 2-2 draw with Washington Crossfire. "It's just to get some more game time," Wirth told us back in March. "But in the summer I will be training with the Whitecaps again and then going whenever I'm able to get some time in, just for game time." Wirth was recently back in Vancouver, playing in goal for the Beavers in March's friendly between OSU and WFC2. Oregon were on the wrong end of a 3-2 defeat that day but for Wirth, it was just nice to be back and catch up with some old friends. "It felt good," he told us. "It felt good to come back to where I started. I obviously know a handful of the guys on the WFC2 team, so that always just gets me riled up to play because you want to play against your friends that you grew up with." And a lot of those friends have also been his teammates on the Canadian national team these past few years. Wirth was one of nine Whitecaps Residency products on Canada's 20-man roster for the 2015 CONCACAF U-20 Championship in Jamaica in January. Canada may not have had much success in what were the qualifiers for the recent U-20 World Cup in New Zealand, crashing out in the group stages after a strong start, but on a personal level, the tournament was a success for Wirth, who got the nod over his fellow Residency alumni Marco Carducci in three of the five group games. As disappointing as the tournament was, Wirth feels that the Canadian team can still take positives from it. "I felt that there were lots of lessons that we all took from the whole tournament. I feel it was just a building point and everybody needs to look forward from that." It certainly feels like too talented a group not to go on and do well for the national team at the next level these coming years. As for Wirth's plans for his own footballing future, with the Whitecaps maintaining his MLS right and with the new pro pathway of WFC2 in USL, is that enough to see him come out of college early? That's a decision still yet to be made. "I'm kind of just taking it year by year," he told us. "I'm going to keep that bridge with the Whitecaps and keep all my options open."
  5. Froese looks like he's been playing MLS for years, but ask him how he feels about that and he just shrugs it off in an equally composed, non-fazed manner, although he does feel he has adjusted well to the noticeable step up in quality from Residency to first team level. "I just feel that every game is another focus," Froese told AFTN at training this week. "Just refocus on the task in hand. It's just like playing, training here, playing a game right. It's what I do every day and I try to do that on the field. "It's definitely faster and there's more pressure to play. When you go on the field, results matter a lot more." Froese's latest appearance came in the final ten minutes of the dismal display down in San Jose. He was one of the few bright spots for Vancouver in the game and Robinson said immediately after the game that he felt the young midfielder's performance had given him something to think about in terms of his future squad selection. And it was something he expanded on further in his first press scrum of the week. "He's been great coming off the bench and he was again on Saturday," Robinson mused. "In a dull match, he was the spark. Subs are there to make impacts and differences. The challenge is then when they get their opportunity in the starting line-up, can they have the same impact? "Sometimes that doesn't happen, so it's easier for a sub to come on sometimes and change the game. But he's doing himself a lot of favours at the moment with his performances coming off the bench." Robinson doesn't want to rush Froese and is happy using him in the sub role just now, loaning him to the USL side for additional valuable minutes. This past weekend saw Froese turn out for ten minutes for the MLS team on Saturday before heading down to start and play 77 minutes in Sunday's 2-0 loss to Orange County Blues in USL action. And you can expect more of that double dipping as the season goes on. "I sent Tim Parker and Kianz after our game on Saturday to go and play in the game," Robinson said. "It's important for them. It wasn't ideal with regards travelling on Sunday morning to play in a game Sunday afternoon, but it's important that they get match minutes as well." Playing two games in a weekend is nothing new to Froese. He's been doing it with the Residency in the USSDA for the past few years. This is obviously at a much higher level, coupled with a long drive between San Jose and Irvine inbetween, but as you'd expect, the midfielder takes it all in his stride. "I knew I needed to go down to USL for minutes," Froese told us. "It's good for me and I tried to give it my all in terms of how I performed and how I played because those games are important for me in how I continue to improve myself." What is slightly more difficult from him and all of the MLS guys heading down to WFC2 is the establishment of team chemistry. The starting line-up of WFC2 has chopped and changed considerably for each game and that will have contributed somewhat to the three losses in their four matches so far. Froese, and the others, primarily train with the MLS squad. He's had little time to train and bond with his WFC2 teammates. Arriving shortly before kick off doesn't help either, but Froese feels that the chemistry will start to come soon between the two squads. "I think you just take it as it comes," Froese feels. "You try and develop a chemistry as you play and go on and try and get things going when they're not going. Everyone can play soccer. It's kind of a one language type of thing." But with 111 MLS minutes already under his belt, it can't be long now until Froese does get his first start. He's itching for it but patient at the same time. But whatever Robinson's plans are for MLS playing time for Froese this season, it's not been something the pair have discussed. "As a young player, you get chances," Froese added. "I don't expect anything or to play a bunch of minutes. I just come here day to day and hopefully get a chance to play. He hasn't spoken with me about that kind of stuff. All I can do is hope and when it comes it comes."
  6. Serban's rise within the Whitecaps has been swift. The defender came to the 'Caps Residency program in February last year, becoming an immediate starter and going on to make 15 appearances for the U18s in USSDA action. After an early playoff exit, Serban made the step up to the Whitecaps PDL side, making a further 11 appearances for the Caps. An obvious talent, the next stage of his development was always going to be key and Serban chose to head down the college route with UBC Thunderbirds, before returning to the 'Caps fold as one of the first signings on the new WFC2 roster. "It's very exciting, for sure," Serban told AFTN when we caught up with him at WFC2 training recently. "I know the Whitecaps are an excellent organisation and with this USL team it provides me with an extra opportunity to develop and improve my game and hopefully raise my game to try and get to the MLS level. So I'm definitely excited to sign for USL and I'm looking forward to this season." Serban is certainly an exciting prospect and one to keep an eye on this coming season and he could be one of the breakout guys. Moving up from the youth ranks is always a defining time for young players as they face an older and often more physical environment. You can never be 100% certain just who will make it, but Serban has already acquitted himself well at PDL (U23) and college level. The full back impressed during his freshman year at UBC, making 16 appearances in a very stingy Thunderbirds defence. It earned him CIS "Rookie of the Year" honours and put him firmly on the radar for the Canadian national team. UBC coach Mike Mosher told AFTN last year that Serban had been "absolutely terrific" since coming in to the team and the program and he hopes to work with him for many years to come, which we'll come to later. But despite earning all the plaudits, Serban admits it was an adjustment moving up to that next level. "It was challenging," Serban told us. "It's definitely more aggressive and I had to step up my physicality. That's been pretty much the biggest difference I've seen, plus attention to detail. Always being switched on. The speed of play is really quick." Part of that challenge was adjusting to a new role, for while Serban had been playing right back for the Whitecaps Residency, he slotted into the left back position at UBC. Different, but he feels comfortable playing in either of the full back positions. "I don't mind. If it's on my left, I don't care, I'll hit it with my left. It doesn't really make a difference to me." And it certainly didn't look like it made any difference out on the pitch. Having that versatility is a useful string to have to his bow, as the likes of Russell Teibert has shown with the Whitecaps first team these past couple of seasons. The more positions you can play, the more it bodes well for your involvement with the team. "It definitely does," Serban agreed. "Because you never know with injuries and what we'll have during the game with substitutions. If the coach needs me to go to the left side or the right side, I don't mind. I'll play anywhere that I need to be. I'm just happy to be on the field." The Whitecaps had been monitoring Serban's progress closely at UBC during his rookie season, with the young defender emailing reports after every game around how he did, and where and how much he'd played. The 'Caps clearly liked what they saw and with their new USL team finally sorted, Serban became one of the first six players added to the inaugural WFC2 roster. Leaving college early to head to the pro ranks is always a tough decision for a young player, especially when you look at the numbers that then go on to make it in the game. In Serban's case, however, it was a decision made a lot easier not only by the fact that he has history with the club, but because he's not actually leaving UBC or the Thunderbirds to join WFC2. "It wasn't a hard decision because I'd been with the Residency Whitecaps," Serban told us. "Now to move on to the next stage of the Whitecaps is definitely a great opportunity for me. At the same time, I can still continue playing for UBC once the USL season is done because CIS eligibility is not like NCAA." It's the perfect arrangement and one which could see a number of top young Canadian players in the future shunning the American collegiate system to stay within the CIS one in Canada. They then have the best of both worlds as they try and make a go of it in the pro ranks, while getting an education at the same time. That's not to say that it will be easy to juggle school with travelling all over North America. Serban is still in his first year at UBC, studying business. He'll treat the rest of this year as a gauge as to how he'll progress with that balance going forward. "I'm currently still enrolled and doing courses and coming to training every day and working hard here," Serban said. "Next year I'll probably lighten the course load if I'm going to continue here because it'll get difficult. "It's good because I can continue slowly with my degree and continue working hard with my soccer and hopefully making it one day to MLS." That work ethic and desire to continue to learn and develop has impressed the Whitecaps, but it also was part of the reason that Rob Gale decided to bring Serban into the Canadian U20 set-up. Serban was called into the Canada camp for three friendlies in November, coming on as a sub against England before starting against Russia and the US in the right back position. Gale liked what he saw and Serban was not only named in Canada's squad for the FIFA U20 World Cup qualifiers in Jamaica in January, he started and played the full 90 minutes in all five games. "He's done very very well with us," Gale said of Serban on a recent conference call with media. "He's had the experience in Europe. He's a talented lad, he's a good one v one defender and he's proved himself that he can handle the international matches. "As a full back, first and foremost, you have to be a good one v one defender and I think he's got that. He's a good game player. He raises himself to the occasion. He can also use the ball very well. He seems level headed. Nothing seems to phase him on or off of the field, which I like. He's composed on the ball. He's good quality." While Canada may like to go with players from Unattached FC and the odd NCAA player like Cyle Larin, you don't often see CIS players getting a look, and Serban admits that the initial call and inclusion in the Canadian squad came as something of a surprise. "It definitely did a little," Serban admitted. "I got an email asking me to sign some Canadian Association form. I wasn't too sure what this all meant but when they called me for my first camp I knew I had to work hard and take the opportunity given, because it was short and not too long before the World Cup qualifying. I was definitely surprised but I tried to take the opportunity as best as I could." As great an opportunity as it was, the qualifying campaign ended poorly as we all sadly know. "The experience was great," Serban told us. "Getting to work with all those great coaches. Rob Gale, Ante Jazic and Paul Stalteri. They had a whole staff that prepared us really well for every game and they put a lot of detail in to it. The teams we played against were all fantastic teams, so it was definitely a challenge. We knew we had to step our game up. Obviously it didn't work out too well but it was a great experience. It's just too bad that we couldn't qualify." As disappointing as it was, and still it, Serban and the rest of the players will learn from it and hopefully he's starting off on a road to successes with the Whitecaps. Serban's had an interesting footballing journey. He moved to Calgary with his family from Romania at the age of two and by the age of 12 was already shining at provincial youth level in Alberta. The European connection helped him secure several training stints in Spain, Germany and Romania and a lot of what he learned there has helped shape his game and work ethic today. "It definitely helped improve my game," Serban told us about what those European experiences taught and meant to him. "What I noticed there compared to when I was training here when I was younger, was that over there, every session they go 100% working hard. When I was younger here, the training sessions were taking it a little easier and then in games going flat out. "So it definitely helped seeing how the players went 100% every practice and that definitely helped improve me and my game, going every practice full on and then that transfers into the game." But after all his travels, Vancouver is now Serban's new home, albeit one with several familiar faces. Playing his youth soccer in Calgary with the Chinooks, Serban was a teammate with Marco Carducci and regularly played against Jackson Farmer, Mitch Piraux and Sam Adekugbe. Having those guys around him again in WFC2 (and previously with the Residency) and the Canadian team has helped him settle in and it's a like a home from home for all the guys. All of which will help the team in the long run. "It feels great," Serban said. "When I was younger I played with Carducci on the same team and against Mitch, Jackson, Sam as well. It's just great to come in here and know all these players. They definitely helped me feel welcome right away. It just felt that I meshed in with the group quicker." It's the kind of chemistry that will give WFC2 a little edge over some of the more experienced and older teams at times this season. It's quite the Calgary connection and you wouldn't bet against seeing all of them again on the Whitecaps MLS squad in the future either.
  7. Sam Adekugbe has been in the Vancouver residency system since September 2011. Time and time again he has excelled at the U16 and U18 levels and after he signed his MLS homegrown contract, he has stepped up to the next level, knowing that the road to becoming a full time MLS starter will be full of obstacles and challenges. In the long run they will only make him a more well rounded and more complete professional footballer because of it. Last weekend during the game versus the Fire there were signs that he has plenty to work on to become the most complete left-back he can be. He isn't always in the perfect defensive position, he can maybe be too aggressive from time to time, but what he lacks in his technicalities he makes up for it with his raw speed, pace and his gifted abilities. Numerous times he showed off that unsuspecting speed to blow past countless Fire players and run right around them down the left side of the pitch. He showed great footballing smarts by jumping into the play when he was open to do so. Now the pass wasn't always sent to him by his teammate, and there were a few wasted 50 to 60 yard runs, but at least he knew when he had an opportunity to make them. He also knew once he didn't get the ball to hustle back and get into sound defensive positions just in case there was a quick turnover and a counter attack. Just as well, as watching the game there was plenty of them by both teams. Moving forward, Carl Robinson has a difficult decision to make now every game. Does he go with the football intelligent, experienced and great team leader that is Jordan Harvey or is the future now and should he start the uptempo and faster Adekugbe? As of now, there appears to be no limit on Adekugbe's potential as a player. What to do with him and how to get the best continued development out of him are now the questions facing the Whitecaps management. USL and the new WFC2 team are still an option for Adekugbe this season. That would be a great chance for him to get quality, competitive minutes on a pitch. But there is the potential of him not benefiting enough from the quality of play in USL. Adekugbe has shown he is capable of holding his own and excelling at the MLS level. Sure he will learn from his mistakes at either level, but it might be better for his continued footballing development to make the mistakes around players like Mauro Roslaes, Pa-Madou Kah and Steven Beitashour than players like Brett Levis, Tyler Rosenlund and Jackson Farmer. And I mean that as no slight or with no offence to the USL players I named, but they don't have years and years of experience at the highest level of football in North America, and in Rosales' case in South America. Another option thrown around by Whitecaps supporters on Twitter these past few days caught my eye. Could we have Harvey start at right-back for the struggling Steven Beitashour, thus allowing Adekugbe to continue to start and gain quality MLS minutes and experience as the left-back? Other than the assist to Octavio Rivero to set-up the game winning goal (which we have to give him kudos for), Beitashour has struggled this preseason and the two games so far in the regular season. Just like last season he has been beaten too many times by being sucked in too far into the middle of the pitch, then having the opposing team's defender run right past him giving them an easy shot or too much space to make a decent cross into the defensive box. Harvey has filled in nicely at the right-back position a few times over his career, he has the experience to be able to not look completely out of place on the pitch in that spot. Ethen Sampson is currently the first choice back-up to Beitashour, and although Tim Parker may also be an option there going forward, the cupboard is somewhat bare for the Whitecaps in that position, and not for the first time. Adekugbe's performance on Saturday earned him a place in Major League Soccer's "Team of the Week". That display, along with the 'Caps keeping their first clean sheet of the new season, make him hard to now drop. Tough decisions ahead for Robinson.
  8. Clarke became the Whitecaps' sixth homegrown player to be signed to a MLS contract in April 2012, after an exemplary few years in the 'Caps Residency program. The 2011/12 USSDA season had seen Clarke play a key role in the Whitecaps' U18s run to the Championship game, scoring 24 goals in 27 games over the course of the campaign. Those of us who had watched him play the past couple of seasons knew what an exciting attacking talent he was and were excited to see what he could bring, and how he would develop, in the first team. Things didn't quite pan out as planned however. Clarke didn't get much of a chance to shine under Martin Rennie. He saw time in both Reserve League and PDL action but his career MLS stats sheet reads just two substitute appearances and 15 minutes of action. Both games came late in his rookie season. The striker seemed to fall out of favour with the 'Caps coach the next year. Clarke was understandably unhappy at the lack of opportunities, while Rennie seemed unhappy with his unhappiness. Things seemed to come to a head in June. Whether to get his fitness levels up or to send a message to the young player, Rennie played a then 20-year-old Clarke in a U18s warm up match as they prepared for the USSDA playoffs. Clarke sent his own message, scoring a very impressive first half hat-trick before being subbed off at half time. A loan deal was looking the best outcome for both parties, and that's just what happened. Clarke did well in Germany and looked to have settled. With all that had happened with the Whitecaps in the past couple of years, we thought that was likely to sadly be the last we saw of him in a 'Caps jersey. But with a new attitude, a new management team in place, a new direction and a different atmosphere at the club, Clarke made the decision to ink a new deal and fight for MLS minutes. "I was just really happy with how the club has changed over the past couple of years," Clarke told AFTN. "I think that the team spirit and stuff is a lot better than when I left, so I thought I'd just stick around and try and make my spot in the first team." FC Augsburg II play in the Regionalliga Bayern, the fourth tier of German football. Clarke played 26 matches for them last season, bagging 8 goals. So how did he find the whole German experience? "It was really good. I got to play a lot of games. It was really crazy. I got to the play the games that I couldn't play here. But after the injury, it's just great to be back and back on the field for sure." With Augsburg's season coming to an end, Clarke's footballing year was to come to an abrupt halt in May as he suffered a ruptured quadriceps muscle. "It was just the end of the season, actually the last training before the last game of the season," Clarke explained to us as to how the injury came about. "[i was] just doing some shooting at the end of training and I kind of felt a rip as I was doing a shot. "It started to feel better after a couple of days and I was thinking maybe I'll get into the last game. But I got the MRI back and the tendon that connects your quad muscle to your hip, it had completely ripped off. I had to get surgery right away. "I was going to have it there but I flew back. I was able to get it the day after I got back, so I got it here. Since then I've been trying to get back. It's a long process." Clarke enjoyed his time in Germany and having another Canadian, and former Whitecaps Residency teammate, Daniel Stanese on the team helped them both settle in. A few of the 'Caps younger players had training stints in the UK in December. Carl Robinson mentioned last week that they had come back with their eyes opened and a new appreciation as to what is needed to make it at the higher level of the game. Clarke was playing on Augsburg's Under-23 team, but was training with the full first team squad as well. Did he notice the level there considerably higher compared to what he was used to in MLS? "Yeah, especially at the start," Clarke told us. "This is a really physical, athletic league and there it's a lot more technical, tactical. It's quicker, so you have to get to that and obviously it took a little bit to get used to. And training with the first team in Augsburg is even quicker, so yeah, it took a while to get used to but when I did it was great and I liked it a lot." But now he's back in Vancouver and looking to stake a claim to a starting spot in the Whitecaps team for the upcoming MLS season. What's different now, of course, is that Clarke will be assured playing time and crucial competitive development minutes in some form most weekends. He might play MLS minutes. He might start USL PRO games. He will almost certainly see minutes in both over the season, and possibly both on the same weekend. If you thought that the new WFC2 team must have played a part in Clarke re-signing with the Whitecaps, it turns out that while it's a nice added benefit, that wasn't a persuading factor to his new deal. "To be honest, I didn't even know before I made my decision," Clarke told us. "Obviously that helps because it's more games and it was something that was lacking last year that the younger guys weren't able to have those games, so it's good to get it now. It'll be a good thing." As Clarke mentioned, his rehabbing from the injury has been a long process. Carl Robinson had hoped he might have had him available towards the end of last season to provide some much needed firepower to his stuttering attack, but it wasn't to be. The Residency alumni looked sharp in training towards the end of last year. Robinson liked what he saw and both he and Clarke know what the young striker is capable of bringing to the MLS squad and what he needs to work on to make his impact on the league. "I feel that one of my strengths is finishing," Clarke acknowledged. "I scored a lot of goals there and hopefully I can bring that here. To get into the first team, I've got to get fit and sharp again first. From there, just focus on demanding the ball and being strong, being a leader up front and scoring goals of course. That'll get me in there I'm sure!" It's great to see Caleb Clarke back in a Whitecaps shirt. We wish him well and we're looking forward to seeing how he's developed during his time in Germany and in the 18 months since he last played a MLS match. So what are his goals and aspirations for the season ahead? "Definitely to get into MLS games and to get into a regular starting spot, coming off the bench, that kind of thing. Really help the team score goals. That's what I do, so hopefully I can do that for the team."
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