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Found 9 results

  1. 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!
  2. THE GOOD: Ability To Work With Younger Players With the Whitecaps wanting to ideally field a USL PRO team that will consist of mainly players between 17 and 24 years old, Koch's history and experience will make him a good candidate for this job. These players are going to have to be pushed just right, there will be times when Koch will have to be brutally honest when they are struggling but there will also be times where he will have to be more of a friend that encourages the player than a coach. With young Canadian players like Marco Bustos, Kianz Froese, Caleb Clarke, Marco Carducci, Ben McKendry, Sam Adekugbe, and maybe even a Residency player like Dario Zanatta, their development this season in USL PPO is key. This can't be like when they sent players to Charleston Battery where it was a waste of the player's year and the player and team didn't benefit from it. This has to work. This has to be benefit the first team, Residency and most importantly the players themselves. Koch is the safe bet for the front office to hire. He is known to the coaching staff and players and he knows what the direction of the club under Carl Robinson is. This can be a gateway to maybe a MLS job in the future for Koch and we know he will give 100%. THE AVERAGE: Expectations For Team I hope supporters and casual fans realize that this team was not started to win USL PRO championships. Sure winning one would be great for the club but that's not the main goal. That goal is to build up young players, Canadian or not, to succeed enough to become a mainstay on the first team. With the mandatory roster rules of 50% Canadian and 6 out of 11 of the starters also being Canadian, these rules shouldn't be a problem for the Whitecaps. But with these young players getting these minutes this doesn't mean that it guarantees success this season. For club or player. Fans will have to be patient and enjoy the level of play that the USL will bring. It will be a chance for the fans to support soccer on a level where only those supporters who have followed Residency games will know. It would be great seeing a full Thunderbird Stadium supporting, chanting and cheering on these young players, but it may take a bit of time for those numbers to be hit. Koch's style of play will be vital to both player development, a winning team on the pitch and bums on seats. THE BAD: What If It Doesn't Work What if it doesn't work? What is the back up plan? All their eggs are in the basket for this team. If the team struggles and the fans aren't patient, the support at games will drop. This team has be supported. The players will have to feel apart of the community just like the first team. What if this doesn't help players move up to the first team? Sure you got players like Bustos, Adekugbe, Froese, Clarke and Carducci that will get first team minutes this season. They will play Canadian Championship and CONCACAF Champions League games this season and get their chance. But what about other players on the USL PRO roster? Will they get a chance to be in a gameday 18 and/or a MLS contract? What will they have to do to get that chance? In the long run I believe this will be a good fit for Koch, but fans will also have to be patient and look at the long term goals moving forward.
  3. Koch's talents have been in demand before from professional clubs, so what was it about the coaching job with WFC2 that finally tempted him away from the Clan after seven years at the helm? "I've a lot of respect for the club. I've a lot of respect for the people that work for the club," Koch told AFTN. "I definitely have a very similar philosophy to Robbo. To move to the pro ranks when you don't have to leave home, or my adopted home, is obviously a lot easier. "I've had a lot of opportunities to go away and go live in another country and all that type of stuff, but those weren't the right fit. I feel very passionate and very loyal to the SFU program, but this was too good to pass by." Koch is a student of the game. Much like Carl Robinson, when he's not coaching football, he's watching it. I've often bumped into him at local soccer matches at all levels, and it's that passion for the game which immediately drew a bond with the 'Caps coach. That love of the game and the shared philosophy of how it should be played and how players should be developed. That would have played a huge role in his appointment. "I think so," Koch told us. "We're people who are very passionate about the game. We love the game. We can talk very easily about the game. And then obviously having done some work with him. "I was here last summer watching him train all the time. I guess he was picking my brain, I was picking his brain. And then going through the whole draft process in terms of scouting players, assessing players. Seeing what he values and what I value. I think we can say we're on a very, very similar page." Koch spent most of the summer working with the Whitecaps MLS squad and observing the coaches. With his strong scouting network and knowledge of the college game, the 'Caps hired Koch to be their college scout in preparation for this year's SuperDraft and the South African went to both the MLS combine and draft with the club earlier this month. That scouting role acted as a trial of sorts. The Whitecaps could see just what kind of player Koch would identify as being able to help the club and whether that fitted into the direction that Robinson was taking the club and what they saw as their needs. The two mindsets meshed seamlessly. They were clearly on the same page. "Players go on trial but coaches go on trial too sometimes," Koch acknowledged. "It's sometimes tough to bring a coach in on trial when we're sometimes scattered all over the globe. I was here. Came in and worked with them and as much as they were looking at me, I was looking to see what they were doing too and very, very impressed with how things are set and excited to be a part of it." As regular AFTN readers will already know from our college coverage, Koch comes to WFC2 with a stellar coaching record at the Simon Fraser University Clan in recent years. He's racked up 116 wins from 144 games, won four straight Great Northwest Athletics Conference (GNAC) championships from 2010 to 2013 and took the Clan to back to back NCAA Division II Final Four appearances in 2012 and 2013. A graduate himself from SFU, before Koch went into coaching he had a playing career as a central midfielder, playing professionally in South Africa, Germany and Ireland in spells both before and after his time at college. SFU is part of him, so it must have been a huge wrench to move on. Did he have to seriously weigh up whether to take the WFC2 job or was it a no-brainer? "I had to weigh it up, definitely," Koch admitted. "This is a great opportunity and I'm excited by it, that's why I'm here, but we've done a lot at SFU. We've built something. I think we've put a fantastic infrastructure in place. Safe to say we're leaving it in a much better place than we got it. So it wasn't easy to just give up your baby essentially, but the timing was right. "We've done everything there apart from winning the national championship. I wish them nothing but going on and winning that national championship. We're leaving behind a very, very good team at SFU. The tools are in place. A good group of guys, they're willing to work hard. So hopefully they can achieve that goal. But the timing was right for me now." By Clan standards, 2014 was a disappointing year - they only made the first round of the postseason. With a large turnover of playing personnel and some key injuries, SFU took a little bit of time to find their stride this past season, but Koch pulled them together and they finished the regular season by winning eight of their last nine matches. After all of their previous headline grabbing heroics these past couple of years, it wasn't the way that Koch wanted to bow out from the Clan. He leaves with tinge of sadness but he knows that he's left them in a very strong and healthy state to go on and win that first NCAA crown. "I think for SFU fans there were some challenges we had, and I can tell you exactly what they were. Justus Hogback, that we brought in from Sweden, a fantastic striker, only played in two games. He got injured and he got a medical redshirt, so he'll be a freshman again this year. If we had him, that's another 10 to 15 goals in the season and that would have made a huge difference. "We also had Adam Jones from Metro-Ford and Pascal Schmidt who came over from the Stuttgart Kickers and both of them, under NCAA rules, had to spend a year of residency, so they weren't able to play. "If we had those three players, you're looking at a Final Four team that can challenge and win it all. Those guys now will all be eligible for next season. It's tough to leave a good group and that's a very, very good group. Having trained with them last week, the nucleus was there but this opportunity wasn't going to come up every year, so when it came up I had to take it." Koch's departure will be heavily felt by SFU and it will be interesting to see who they hire as his replacement to keep the success of program continuing. There will be other changes when SFU open their 2015 season in September too. Clan captain Jovan Blagojevic will no longer be a part of the side, drafted by the Whitecaps earlier this month. That selection was the biggest indication yet to us at AFTN that Koch was about to become the new WFC2 coach. Blagojevic credits Koch with his continuing improved development, affording him his chance in the pro ranks. Koch clearly had a huge input into Blagojevic's selection and he is excited to see what the local winger can now do at the next level. "He's a guy who has no ceiling on his game," Koch told us. "We didn't bring him in [to SFU] straight out of high school because he wasn't quite ready. We watched him and he showed signs that he could do it and literally every single year he's got better and this is why I really promoted him to the Whitecaps. "I think he'll come in here and step up and do better. The sky's the limit for him. It's great for him to start in USL PRO. Let's see how he does and that goes for every player. You come in, you get an opportunity, you take it, but he is certainly one of those guys who hasn't peaked or reached his ceiling by any means. So I'm looking forward to working with him. It'll be nice to have a familiar face at training. Blagojevic was the first SFU player to be selected in an MLS draft. The previous year Chris Bargholz garnered a lot of interest and his fellow German, central defender Alex Kleefeldt, went to train at Sporting KC last summer and there was even some talk they may have taken the senior in the draft. Koch didn't rule out further additions to the WFC2 training camp from the Clan but added that he "certainly won't just be zoning in on SFU players. We'll look everywhere to see if we can find the right guys." A number of the 'Caps USL PRO squad are already known, whilst others are easy to speculate on. So does the new WFC2 coach have an input in what players the 'Caps might look to bring into his squad, or will that be more dictated by what Robinson and the upper echelons of the Whitecaps management seek? "I think really by committee is how we'll do it," Koch told us. "Obviously Robbo is the manager of the club, so he has full say on all the players but we'll all work on it together, we'll identify players together, we'll discuss them and make sure that we all agree that these are the right players to bring in because there has to be a plan for the guys. There's no point me saying I'm going to bring a guy in if he doesn't fit into Robbo's plan. That makes no sense." Koch has a UEFA 'B' licence and is working towards UEFA 'A' licence, adding to the wealth of coaching qualifications at the Whitecaps right now. His SFU side were known for their very attacking style of play and Koch doesn't see that changing when he takes charge in USL PRO. "I think we're going to be a very attack minded team, which the first team are too. We'll play possession football but definitely focus on the outcome. Go forward and see if we can score some goals. Of course we'll play organised football at the same time. Measured. But there is a club philosophy. I fully support that philosophy. I buy into it and we'll go out and do exactly that." There will be many other similarities to what he has been used to up the mountain these past seven years. He will have a young squad to mould and develop, many of them recent college players. A lot of raw talent, and some egos, to hone. An interesting mix of backgrounds and nationalities. But amidst all of that, Koch knows that he is being tasked with perhaps the fundamentally most important aspect of the Whitecaps - that crucial missing link in player development between the Residency program and the MLS first team. Something which we have discussed with Koch on numerous previous occasions was also the missing link for BC players at college or in the local amateur leagues. Those outwith the 'Caps system right now. Blagojevic is there now to show that it can be done. You can reach the pro ranks from local soccer. Koch and the Whitecaps also hope that the WFC2 can now be that bridge. The Whitecaps 2 will start their preseason camp shortly, ahead of a 28 game season, but as the roster starts to take shape the 'Caps announced today that they will hold open trials for local, national and international players on February 21st and 22nd, with at least one guaranteed spot in the WFC2 preseason training camp. It's a chance for some of the unsung local talent in VMSL, FVSL and the college system to impress. I've seen the wealth of potential there and so has Koch. Some would thrive in a professional training environment. So if he had a message for these guys and those looking to take part, what would it be? "Probably one of the biggest complaints locally, in our local football community is people saying that there hasn't been the opportunities. Well here is the opportunity. The club are investing in it. There's essentially open try outs. They need to sign up obviously and come and show what they can do, but this is your chance. If you want to be part of it and you think you have the ability, show up. "Come show us what you've got. Opportunities like this don't present themselves all the time, so it's nice to have that opportunity here in Vancouver and it'll be great to see some of the local guys show up and people travel from across the country to see what they can do. I'm excited to assess them. We'll give honest feedback and hopefully we can make something out of somebody." So as Koch gets set to take the next step on his football management journey, how does he look back what the Clan achieved under his guidance? How does he see his legacy at SFU? "That's a tough question. I'm a proud alumni. I got my undergrad degree there, I played there, I had a great playing career, I was an assistant coach there, I was a head coach there. I have a bit of SFU in my blood. To be honest, it's quite tough to stand and see that [pointing at the UBC Thunderbirds logo]. Is it a Thunder Duck or what is it, standing over there! "No, I'm a proud SFU alumni and it's sad to leave to be honest. I had a moment before I pressed the send button with my resignation letter. But we've achieved a lot. I'm very proud of the work that we did and I wish them nothing but the best."
  4. "In all honesty, when it came to Alan, we didn't necessarily pursue him because we assumed he's in a good job, he's got security, would he want to take that chance and jump into the professional ranks where that same type of security isn't necessarily there? "But as a result of the work that he did on our college recruiting, he got to know our guys and we got to know him and it was a natural evolution. We were always looking at other candidates, but as time went on, it became clear that Alan was interested in the job and we were interested in him." Koch is well respected in the BC soccer community and has developed a very productive scouting network during his coaching career. His Conference winning Clan sides of recent seasons have had a heavy BC content, with a splattering of fine overseas thrown in. The constant in all of his recruitment is an eye for young talent and the Whitecaps will be hoping for the same from their new coach with the WFC2 team, and Lenarduzzi is confident that Koch will help not just the 'Caps but also the Canadian national team program. "It's a perfect partnership," Lenarduzzi added. "He knows the market. He understands Canadian soccer and what we need to do in terms of ensuring that not only are the club sides successful but that our national team program has a chance to succeed. "He's going to be tasked in bridging the gap between the potential of those players and how far they can go, and ideally equipping them with the knowledge that will allow a number of those young players to actually graduate through to our MLS team. "Right now we have eight homegrown players on our roster and our objective is to continue to add to that. Ideally we get to the point, and I think we're early in the process, where those homegrown players are not only on the roster but contributing significant minutes to our MLS side, like Russell Teibert has done." Koch is a student of the game. Like Carl Robinson, he lives and breathes football. The pair are very similar in many ways, not least of all in their coaching philosophy and the way they like to play the game. From the time that Koch spent with the Whitecaps this past year, it was soon very evident that he and Robbo were on the same page in terms of the kind of player both wanted to see at the Whitecaps and that made Koch the obvious choice for WFC2. "That actually started prior to the scouting because when we hired him, our coaching staff had a long sit down with him, just to get the feel for what he looked for in a player and the similarities were certainly there from the outset," Lenarduzzi said. "As it went further in the process, it became clearer and clear that he could be a guy that came in and do what our senior coaches were looking for in transitioning those young players through to the MLS squad. "We couldn't have scripted it this way, simply because, again, we didn't think that Alan would be interested in the job, but it was actually a long interview, in that it started with the college recruiting. There was no expectations on either side but as we were going through the process, both sides were thinking that this could be something, in Alan's case "I'd like to do", and in our case, we're thinking maybe he could be the guy that could be our first Whitecaps FC 2 head coach." The Whitecaps USL PRO season will kick off at the end of March. There might be no schedule or roster available to get fans excited just yet, but Lenarduzzi is hopeful, and confident, that fans will turn out in numbers to support the club's future. "We hope that we can put 3000 people out here. It's been a problem for us because we've had nothing to talk about up to now. We announced we were in two months ago. Now we have a head coach and we'll soon have players. "We want to create an environment at UBC, a mini environment to the one we have at BC Place, so it'll be up to us. We can't just assume that we can put a team out and there will be people that will turn up. We need to do what we've done with our senior squad and encourage people to come out and see the players of the future." As to what kind of Whitecaps team with the fans see on the pitch this season, Lenarduzzi feels that whilst development of the younger players will always be the prime concern, putting a winning and competitive team on the pitch is also important. "As far as winning goes, and it's easy for me to say that it's not important if we push two or three players into our MLS squad that that's the metric that's going to determine how successful we are, but we're in a game where winning is important. Winning actually dictates frame of mind. "We want to get results, obviously, and we want to be competitive. That's probably what we're looking to strive towards. Be competitive but understand that the priority of this squad is for those senior players to get minutes but more importantly for those young players to get the kind of experience to have a better chance of making our MLS squad. Not just make our MLS squad but to get minutes in our MLS team."
  5. McKendry's Junior NCAA season with New Mexico Lobos had caught the eye of several scouts. He was being rated highly and looking MLS ready. The midfielder loved his time in Albuquerque, but from a solely footballing perspective the time to make the move to the pro ranks with the Caps was now. "Obviously it's my home city, so I know the club pretty well, and that kind of made the decision a whole lot easier," McKendry told us. "If it was another club or another country it would be kind of a harder decision because I don't know exactly what I'm going in to. "The big part for me was coach Carl welcoming me back over the years and bringing me back to train and making me feel that I was part of this club, which was huge, so that made it easy." Robinson wanted to add some more midfield depth, with one eye on the 'Caps new USL PRO team, and after looking at what other options were around in the MLS draft, it became clear to him that McKendry was the man he wanted and he decided to pull the trigger now and offer McKendry a MLS contract. "I watched a lot of Benny last year and he done very well," Robinson said. "You hear all these reports coming out about him, that's he's a top ten player in the draft, and things like that. Well he was the previous year, I knew he was. I just think the timing was right [now]. "Ben had obviously made it known that he was ready to have a crack at the MLS level, which was always good because you wonder what players sometimes think. Once he made that known, we done our due diligence on the draft and we thought there were some talented midfield players in there, but they weren't better than Ben. I'm not going to produce another stopgap or block another pathway for my homegrown players. "We made a decision on draft day that we wanted to try and sign Ben to a homegrown contract and it's worked out great for us and great for him. I spoke to his dad and he's very happy. I do have to thank the New Mexico guys for part of his development as they've been crucial in that as well." The timing was perfect for the Residency alumni, who had been weighing up whether he should make the move to the pro ranks now or finish his degree. It didn't take too much deliberating. He would put his studies on hold and head back to Vancouver with a professional contract. "You obviously have to bring out the pros and cons of staying at school for another year," McKendry acknowledged. "Maybe entering the draft or coming back to Vancouver after my senior year. I feel comfortable here. Having the coaching staff, the city, my family here, made it a really easily decision. And obviously the USL. They have a USL team, that's huge. So I know I'm going to get minutes, matter level it is." Having that new USL PRO team, and the opportunities it will afford the Whitecaps burgeoning array of young talent, was a big persuader in McKendry making the decision to leave college early. "I think that was a huge part of it," McKendry admits. "A lot of college guys go into this environment and struggle because they don't get the minutes they want but are obviously extremely talented players. So the USL team is huge for me but obviously none of us young guys are shooting for USL, we want to keep moving up, but USL is fantastic for the young guys." With the likes of Matias Laba, Gershon Koffie and Russell Teibert ahead of him in the midfield depth charts on the MLS roster just now, McKendry knows that he will mostly see a lot of minutes with that USL PRO side this season. But situations can change quickly in football. So can form and injuries. McKendry also knows that he is coming to a club and playing under a manager that likes to give the younger players chances and opportunities in first team action. "Carl's big on playing young players. For a guy like me that's a bonus and that excites me cos I know I'm going to get the opportunities to play, which is huge. "There's going to be plenty of opportunities. It's just about taking it. Obviously I've got to train hard every day, at preseason and all those things. It's just going to be about continuing to work, learning from the older guys and you just got to continue to grow." With the Whitecaps facing over 40 games this season between league and cup action, Robinson knows that he will need to use every inch of his squad depth to keep the team competitive over what will feel like a very long year. Whilst he has brought McKendry in with more of an eye to the USL PRO roster, the fact that he has rewarded the midfielder with a full MLS contract is a statement in itself. "I think at the start it will be towards USL PRO, but that's not saying he won't get MLS minutes because he's on my MLS roster," Robinson told us. "I said to him that shows what I think of him, what we think of him and it'll be down to him if he takes that opportunity or not. We've got plenty of games next year. It'll be dictated by his performances in preseason and how he does during the season." McKendry will add some midfield versatility to the 'Caps. He mostly played a central midfield role during his time with the Residency, but featured all over, including the backline. At New Mexico, he played more as a defensive midfielder. A very attack minded one. Robinson doesn't want to pigeonhole McKendry and likes the options that he adds to his squad. "With young players I don't like sticking a certain position on them because I don't think they learn to develop the key characteristics of what is needed in other positions. He can play defensive midfield, and he's very good, but he's a box to box midfield player. We need goals from midfield at certain times of the season as well, so if he can add goals to his bow then I think he'll be a great addition for us." That role suits McKendry down to the ground and he feels at home wherever he plays in the midfield. "I'm pretty comfortable with both roles really," McKendry told us. "As defensive it depends who you play alongside with. I don't have any problem going forward and making that late run into the box, to pick up a goal here or there. But if you need me to stay back and defend, I embrace that side of the position as well. "I'm a confident player. I like to get on the ball and have fun." There's still a lot of debate in soccer circles about the merits of young players, especially Canadian ones, going through the American college system. Whilst some feel it gives players valuable experience and playing time, others feel the nature of the game in NCAA can stunt development instead of progressing it. McKendry is in no doubt about the benefit going to New Mexico has been to his playing career and would recommend that path to others currently weighing up their options. "I think a lot of young players have expectations that are a little but unrealistic in terms of wanting to go pro. When kids hear about the college environment and playing college soccer, especially in the States, there's probably some negative connotations towards it. "For me it was key in my development from that age of 18 to where I am now. It was huge and there's plenty of good programs in the States. You can enjoy yourself, you can get an education. I couldn't say enough good things about at least my experience. I'm sure I've got a lot of good friends as well that would say the same thing." McKendry becomes the 8th homegrown player on the Whitecaps' current MLS roster. He's also the only one born and raised in Vancouver. Does that put any added pressure on him to perform and succeed? "I wouldn't say pressure. I don't think there should never be any pressure when you're playing a game you love. But I definitely have a sense of pride playing for Vancouver and being the only guy from Vancouver here." Settling in won't be an issue. He has his family and friends around him and his previous training spells with the first team means that he's already a well-kent face at training to many of the current squad. And all of those familiar faces make for a smooth transition for McKendry. "I know a lot of the guys, which makes it more comfortable. Also, Carl and his coaching staff do a great job of making it a welcoming environment, which isn't always the case in a professional environment. I feel comfortable and the guys have welcomed me really well." That was clear to see at his first training session as a signed pro. It also helped that while the Whitecaps training camp was just getting underway, McKendry has been in full training mode for the past couple of weeks already. "I just came off two weeks of spring training with New Mexico. In the springtime most college teams do crazy fitness things. Running up sand dunes, crazy workouts and stuff. I felt pretty good out there. It was fun" We can't wrap up our chat with Ben without throwing out that well worn cliché of the hard work starts now. It's true, it does. And the only way to push yourself into the MLS mix in this competitive environment is to shine often and improve regularly. It's the key focus for McKendry in this preseason camp and he knows what elements of his game he needs to continue to work on to get himself to that next level. "You can never be satisfied with where you're at," he told us. "Seeing the older guys on this team who are kind of getting to the end of their career, you see the workrate that they continue to put in and how they take care of their bodies. "That's key to being a professional, always wanting to get better, continuing to learn, which is nice to be able to know that as a young player and have those guys as an example to see what you need to do to get better and have a long career."
  6. The 'Caps have 30 USL PRO roster spots available to them. With the ability to move players up and down from both the MLS squad and the Residency, they won't be carrying a full squad and the initial roster number will likely be in the low 20s range to allow Carl Robinson more flexibility. In terms of these loan deals between Whitecaps teams, the process is quite simple. Each player has to be registered as a USL PRO player to be able to play for WFC2. All loan deals have to go through the necessary paperwork and everything has to be ratified like a normal registration or transfer. A player can be on both the Whitecaps' MLS/Residency roster and the USL PRO roster at the same time. That also means that a player could potentially play for both sides over the course of a weekend. Let's take Kianz Froese as an example. He could be on the bench for the Whitecaps in MLS on the Saturday, maybe even getting a few minutes of action towards the end of the game, and then starting for the USL PRO team on the Sunday. Great for his development and expect that to be fully utilised, as Robinson looks to rehab injuries and get players on the fringes some key, competitive minutes. The loan deals are open ended, but the initial loan has to be for a year. The Whitecaps, however, can cancel the loan deal at any time. The only real reasons that the 'Caps would be looking to do this though would be for space (in that they want to add another player) or if they are planning on moving the player on. CSA stipulations require the 'Caps to have at least a 50% Canadian content on their roster, with six of the 11 starters mandated to be Canadian. As we've stated previously, we have no real issues with the former, as the vast bulk of the squad will have come through the Whitecaps Residency system anyway, but enforcing a manager to play a player because of nationality over being the best player available to him is somewhat ridiculous. It should also be noted that the 'Caps can feature CIS collegiate players in their WFC2 squad but not any of the NCAA 'Caps at college, unless they choose to leave school. So with all this in mind, this is how we see the WFC2 taking shape as it stands right now. GOALKEEPERS: Marco Carducci (MLS roster - Canadian) Spencer Richey (MLS SuperDraft) The Caps may decide to just run with two official goalkeepers. If they want Paolo Tornaghi to get some competitive minutes, which they should, then they may regularly move him down from the first team. If they need to add a third goalie, then you have U18 keeper William Diaz, who was part of the Whitecaps PDL team last season and impressed towards the end of the campaign. I expect Richey (who does have a Canadian granny so we could perhaps get away with claiming him as part of the Canadian contingent!) to get some starts. Carducci will still be seeing time with the Residency, as the U18s look to lift their first USSDA national title. He's a key player for them and with two games most weekends for the U18s, they need him there. He could of course play for the Residency on the Saturday and then the USL team on the Sunday, but getting playing time at the all the levels will be key for him this year. DEFENDERS: Sam Adekugbe (MLS roster - Canadian) Christian Dean (MLS roster) Jackson Farmer (Residency graduate - Canadian) Jordan Haynes (Residency - Canadian) Tim Parker (MLS SuperDraft) Ethen Sampson (MLS roster) Chris Serban (Residency graduate - Canadian) This is an area that will still need to be padded out with more depth at full back perhaps. Two other possibilities are the two recent lower SuperDraft picks Craig Nitti and Canadian Nikola Paunic. Both of those guys may have to impress during preseason camp though to be kept around. Jordan Haynes, who can also play a midfield role, is still on the Caps U18 squad and may split his time between the two, featuring more in the summer months when the Residency's season is over. Chris Serban is in his first year at UBC. Whether he will look to leave or juggle both is unclear, but he is a talented full back that can play on both the right and the left and is away with the Canadian U20 team right now. Their coach Rob Gale confirmed he will be playing USL with the Caps. Another possible name to add into the mix is Jordian Farahani. The Regina native shone for the PDL side last season, and has played previously with Ottawa Fury and Thunder Bay Chill. He was named to the USL PDL All-Western Conference team and the 'Caps may reward the University of Saskatchewan captain with a further look, although he has been linked with Icelandic Second Division side Hotther and at 24, his age may count against him heading back to Vancouver. MIDFIELDERS Marco Bustos (MLS roster - Canadian) Kianz Froese (MLS roster - Canadian) Adam Mena (former MLS Supplemental Draft pick) Brett Levis (PDL roster - Canadian) Mitch Piraux (Residency graduate - Canadian) This is another area that the Caps may look to make a couple more additions in before the season gets underway, although they can also count Andre Lewis in there, but I have him in with the forwards for now. Both Bustos and Froese will see some minutes in MLS action this season, along with continuing in the U18s, of which Bustos is the captain. The bulk of their minutes will surely come in USL PRO though. Bustos will take the number 10 role, although Nicolas Mezquida is likely to head down from the MLS squad to USL PRO for some games and to stay match fit in that position. We may even see Russell Teibert head down to USL PRO for a number of games. Have to hit that Canadian quota after all. Robinson has been impressed by Brett Levis and told me he wants to see him at the next level, so the fourth year University of Saskatchewan player will be heading back. Like Serban, we're not sure about the schooling aspect of it all just yet. Of all the players the Whitecaps sent down to Charleston last season, the surprise standout was Adam Mena. Robinson rates him and will give him a chance to show what he can offer. Residency graduate Ben McKendry could be tempted out of his last year at college to join the new side. The defensive midfielder had a standout season with New Mexico Lobos, picking up a slew of honours and plaudits in the process. Robinson rates him highly and has said a contract is here for him whenever he decides he wants to take it. FORWARDS Kay Banjo (MLS SuperDraft) Jovan Blagojevic (MLS SuperDraft - Canadian) Caleb Clarke (MLS roster - Canadian) Niall Cousens (PDL roster - Canadian) Mamadou Diouf (previous MLS SuperDraft) Andre Lewis (previous MLS SuperDraft - could be classed more as MF) Dario Zanatta (Residency - Canadian) The forward department is the fullest of the areas on the pitch as it stands, with a lot of competition for places. Add in getting Kekuta Manneh and Erik Hurtado minutes if they haven't featured in the first team, and then it's even more so. Robinson will want to see what Kay Banjo and Jovan Blagojevic can offer, along with Caleb Clarke. Some big question marks around last season's SuperDraft picks Diouf and Lewis. The latter is signed and on the MLS roster (he can also be classed a misfielder as well as a forward) as it stands, but Diouf isn't. Both need a good training camp if they are even to get a shot in USL. Blagojevic and Clarke in particular will be keen to show that they are the guy to go with instead and have the advantage of being local lads. If any players are likely to be out of place due to the Canadian aspect of the roster rules, then it's likely to be Diouf and Lewis. And talking of BC boys, another name that could be in the mix is Cody Cook. The Mount Royal Cougars striker led the scoring charts in PDL last season with the Caps and was named to the All-Western Conference team. Expect PDL team-mate Niall Cousens to be involved as Robinson is a fan of the big forward. The surprise name you might think on the list is Dario Zanatta. He's going to continue to be with the U18s primarily but Robinson rates him and I wouldn't be surprised at all to see him thrown in as a sub in the odd game as an initial test to see how he fares at the higher level. There will be some other faces vying for places over preseason camp, so the pressure is on all of the guys above to show that they belong and the Caps may still give another look at some of their other PDL and Residency guys from the past. Going from what I have above, my preferred starting line-up would be: Tornaghi or Richey or Carducci Sampson - Parker - Dean - Adekugbe Piraux Froese - Mena Bustos Banjo - Clarke That's borderline on the six Canadian starters, and may mean we see Teibert more in USL than MLS through necessity, thus showing the ridiculousness of that aspect of it from a putting the best team on the pitch point of view and developing the actual best players for the 'Caps MLS team going forward. For me, that latter point holds far greater priority for the USL PRO team than developing players for the Canadian national team or someone like Ottawa Fury down the line. I also want to see the team challenging and winning, as I'm sure the Whitecaps, and those buying season tickets, do as well. We'll just have to see how this plays out and any loopholes around the Canadian quota that can be found as we go along. You are allowed five subs in the USL PRO as an aside. WFC2 will be in the new 12 team USL PRO Western Conference, alongside four other MLS sides (LA, Portland, RSL and Seattle). The other seven teams will be - Arizona United, Austin Aztex, Colorado Springs Switchbacks, OKC Energy, Orange County Blues, Sacramento Republic and Tulsa Roughnecks. The 28 game season will see each Conference side play each other home and away, with six other games coming from regional rivalries and cross-conference match ups. My initial guess is that four of those matches will be against Portland, Seattle, Toronto and Montreal, with possibly home and away ties against the Canadian sides also in the mix. We'll find out soon, as USL hope to be able to bring out the 2015 schedule next week. The top six teams from each Conference will advance to the playoffs, with the eventual Western and Eastern champions meeting for the USL PRO title. We're really looking forward to the new season getting underway, and we'll be bringing you what will very likely be the most comprehensive coverage of WFC2 here on AFTN over the year.
  7. Carl Robinson thought so as well and wanted more of a look at the Notre Dame alumni and Mena became one of seven players that the Whitecaps sent down to their USL PRO affiliate Charleston Battery this season. "I came here (Vancouver) in preseason and I seemed to do pretty well," Mena told AFTN when we spoke with him after training last week. "Robbo and the coaches thought it would be a good idea to head down to Charleston. "I had two knee surgeries before that, so I was out of commission for a good two years and they thought that would be a good spot for me to get some games in and so I did it. I went over there and it was a great time. Nice and warm! But it was good. The partnership seemed to go pretty well. There were a lot of guys from Vancouver there, so like I said, it was a good time." It's been a long, tough road for the 25-year-old to get his shot in the pro ranks. Two long term injuries would have sounded the death knell for many a professional player, never mind one just coming out of the college ranks and trying to establish himself. "I did my ACL in my senior year, August 2012. Then I had another setback in March 2013. That put me back another six to ten months. I kept in contact with the Whitecaps the whole time after they drafted me and they were very, very good about it, so I was able to come into preseason when I was ready." Mena was picked first by the Whitecaps in the 2013 MLS Supplemental Draft, 10th overall, after making 55 appearances with Notre Dame, where he contributed six goals and five assists overall. Primarily a left sided midfielder, Mena can also play as a forward and he played PDL with West Michigan Edge, Kalamazoo Outrage and Indiana Invaders. During his 2011 season with Indiana, Mena scored 14 goals in 16 appearances, and also contributed four assists. That form put Mena on the radar of some MLS sides, but he decided to head back to Notre Dame for a 5th Senior year, only to suffer a season ending injury in preseason, followed by that second aforementioned injury after he was drafted by the Caps. Last season, the year after Mena left Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish won the NCAA College Cup. Did he have any idea of just what a good side he was a part of and the impact the team he left behind would soon have? "I knew. Honestly, my senior year I felt we had what it took as well, but we definitely had a few season ending injuries in the preseason. We had another one of our guys tear his ACL the first week of preseason, I ended up tearing my ACL a week after him and we had a couple of other injuries that season. "But just the way that the guys battled through that season, even though we didn't get what we wanted, you kinda knew they were going to be special the next few years and what do you know, they win it the next year." After missing such a stretch of time in such a key period for a young North American player, Mena was a little apprehensive coming into the ‘Caps camp in January, but they soon made him feel right at home. "From my point of view, I was a little nervous about that, just coming back. I was out for a good 18 months I would say, almost two years, so just jumping straight back into the game, especially now out of college and you're just going straight back into a pro environment. "I had never been in a professional environment and just coming off that injury, I was a little nervous but I knew if I just kinda stuck with what I learned in college and just remembered how I knew how to play, that I could just ease my way back into it. I thought I did a pretty good job of that. It was a little difficult, but I had to stay determined, motivated. "The guys here, honestly, were welcoming and they made that a lot easier as well. I never felt really like the new guy, I guess. They just welcomed me with open arms and it was awesome. It just took off from there." The ‘Caps coaches like what they saw but obviously needed a gauge of what he could do against pros and in competitive matches, so Mena was sent down to Charleston, where he signed a pro contract with the Battery, as opposed to officially being one of the Whitecaps loanees. Mena headed down to South Carolina along with Aminu Abdallah, Mamadou Diouf, Jackson Farmer, Michael Kafari, Andre Lewis and later Omar Salgado. Being there alongside players he had got to know in training camp was also a big help for him in settling in to a new side and the pro ranks. "I would say that for sure. I was with these guys for the first two months of preseason, so going down there with guys that I knew made the transition easier, cos you are going to a new team, guys you've never met before. Just knowing people down there was a good feeling." That might have been a good feeling, the heat not so much, and Mena had to have his long locks shaved off due to the humidity! So how much contact did the Whitecaps have with him whilst he was down in Charleston? "They were definitely very good about keeping contact. We had a coach down there as well that kept in contact with the coaches here, weekly reports. We would give feedback to the coaches back here about how we think we did and how things went. They were very good at keeping contact throughout the whole season." After making 27 appearances and grabbing two goals for Charleston, the midfielder is back training with the Caps now that the USL PRO season is finished. That was enough to be joint leader in appearances on the team and he clocked up 1178 minutes. As to what the future holds in store for Mena, that’s all still up on the air. One of the things that went against draft pick Michael Calderon this year was his similar age. When you have a good crop of Residency talent coming up at a much younger age and with more years of development ahead of them, it’s harder for guys like Mena. They have to impress. Has he done enough to merit a MLS deal? Will the ‘Caps want to take a closer look at him in their own USL PRO team next year? Or will he move on to pastures new? "That's just something that we'll have to talk about in the future. Right now, I just know I'm back for the rest of the season and just looking to kind of make a run and earn a spot."
  8. We hear from those homegrown signings, Marco Bustos and Kianz Froese about their new MLS deals and we get the thoughts of Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson on the pair. Those were the only two signings announced on Monday before the MLS roster freeze and Whitecaps President Bobby Lenarduzzi tells us why and talks about the USL Pro situation, the season run-in and more. Keeping with the young theme we hear from Christian Dean about his first MLS start in last week's game against Dallas and from the guy that scored Vancouver's goal down there, and who everyone hopes is going to go on another streak, Erik Hurtado. Turning attention to back to the remainder of the MLS season, we hear from Robinson and some of the players about being in a full playoff mindset already and how each of these remaining six games is already basically a playoff game if Vancouver want to reach the postseason once again. Robinson also looks ahead to this weekend's big Cascadia Cup clash in Portland and we hear from some of the players - goalkeeper David Ousted, centreback Andy O'Brien and midfielders Matias Laba, Mauro Rosales and Russell Teibert. A busy show for a busy week! Have a listen! You can listen to this week's 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've joined Stitcher Radio Network. Download the app and listen to the AFTN podcast on your device, along with over 15,000 shows HERE. Or after all that, you could just listen on the player below!
  9. Oklahoma City didn't have a soccerteam. Now they are about to have two: http://newsok.com/okcs-soccer-war-needs-one-winner/article/3858541 It's an interesting read, and I wonder how this will unfold. Damn, it's even funny if the consequences wouldn't be that tough. Think about it: apparently the USL (and PDL!) -franchises sign has a clause which prevents them from playing for another league (NASL). If the judge upholds that clause, it has big consequences. It would mean no more team could "naturally" develop anymore. To me it seems pretty logical for an owner to start with a low-cost PDL-franchise, see how that works out and maybe then move up the ranks to, for instance, the NASL (just like Oklahoma City FC intends to do). I always thought that some of the more succesful PDL-teams could make the switch some day to the PRO's, and then make the choice between USL Pro and NASL. I would even suggest it's in the interest of soccer-development in N-A to have that opportunity. And I even wonder if they can have this clause for their USL Pro-franchises, because most of the current NASL teams WERE USL Pro teams before the switch. Could the Rochester Rhinos (for instance) never join the NASL unless they cease operations all together and start all over from scratch? That would be bullsh<*$. Also, what's up with USL Pro anyway? They are desperately trying to prevent NASL expanding into newer markets it seems. If there's rumours about an new team, suddenly USL Pro announces a new franchise. It seems childish and above all, hinders the development of the professional game in Norh-America. What good does it do to have two teams in the Tampa Bay Area?
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