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  1. "The U18 team, we saw this year that they didn't get beyond the group stage [of the playoffs] but they performed very well" Whitecaps President Bobby Lenarduzzi told reporters at an executive roundtable on Monday. "One of the reasons that they were handcuffed at the actual championships was because Kianz Froese and Marco Bustos were up [in the MLS team] and weren't playing there. So that's actually success as far as I'm concerned. "If we don't get the results but we're pushing players up then that's our yardstick. Our U16s got beyond the group stage but unfortunately lost on penalties. But lots of players that we think have an exciting future with the club." Despite the successes, no-one at the Whitecaps is resting on their laurels. They know there's still a lot of hard work ahead to get to where they want to be with their long-term strategic plan for youth development in Vancouver, British Columbia and throughout Canada. And it is the growth of the lesser publicised Whitecaps Academy Centres in recent years that has perhaps seen the biggest boost for the club's desire to develop that Canadian talent pool and have the widest range of young talent available to them. The Whitecaps now have Academy Centres throughout British Columbia, and have recently established three key centres in Saskatchewan and one in Manitoba. They've been a huge success and there's more to come. "I'm very proud of what we do in the Academy Centres," Whitecaps co-owner Jeff Mallett told the roundtable. "This was originally about BC but now we realise that we have the opportunity to establish ourselves across the Western provinces and more and more young players from the east are considering us in their selection of developing their football careers, which is a big bonus for us as well. So we'll continue to develop on the Academy side." That message was echoed by Lenarduzzi, who confirmed that the next part of that Academy development will come as soon as this week. "The Academy centres are something that we are proud of and as time goes on, I think we'll be even prouder and we intend to have our footprint all over Canada," Lenarduzzi added. "I know we have territories in Quebec and Ontario that we can't stray in to, but that won't stop us from investigating those areas outside of that. "We currently have nine Academy Centres and we're in 13 cities, three different provinces and we'll have an announcement later this week that will actually incorporate another province, so we're excited about that." That province is Ontario and the announcement will officially be made on Thursday in London in conjunction with the Elgin Middlesex Soccer Association. Although Major League Soccer has identified restricted development territories for their three Canadian clubs, the Whitecaps area allows them to venture into western Ontario, and they very much want to take advantage of that. The Whitecaps goal is a simple one. They want to be the first choice football club that the best players and the top prospects from throughout Canada want to come and play for. "Our job is to be the best choice out there and be a way of having, through our coaching staff, a clear path through USL to the first team," Mallet explained. "And all the things the players are looking for - minutes, time, being able to develop. "Really that's it at the end of the day. I think we are very competitive in North America. I'd argue that we're in the top three or four in North America. Our objectives are to be as high as some of the European or international clubs, South America included, to put ourselves on that level. "As it comes to individual players, some are going to come through, some are not. Whenever someone doesn't come through, we analyse it of why and try to improve it the next time through." Why would a kid near Toronto or Montreal want to move west when they have MLS clubs on their doorstep? Simple. Right now, the Whitecaps have several factors going for them in their desire to be a young player's preferred club of choice. The key one is Carl Robinson's philosophy of playing young players and build the 'Caps around young talent that will hopefully be in Vancouver for many years to come. Young players want to come to a club where they see that the manager is prepared to give them a shot. Several players on the Whitecaps MLS and USL squads have made that very point to us this year. They signed with Vancouver because they knew that they'd be given their chance and it was then up to them to take it. It's a philosophy the club have embraced and Mallett was keen to highlight the role he feels Robinson has played in the Whitecaps continuing to be a "proper football club", not just giving lip-sync to it but actually being heavily involved and hands-on in every aspect of the club from the youth teams up. "Carl has been the living, breathing example of how to set up a proper football club," Mallett stated. "He's carried out what we hoped the organisation would be, which is having a coaching philosophy that runs from the 14s, and eventually maybe even younger, threads all the way through. "There is a clear path and the gaffer of the shiny MLS club knows the name of the players at the 14s, sitting at the 16s, knows who's on the bench in the USL, meeting with Alan Koch. These are the things you want and then the global connection. I think he's done a fantastic job and structurally this is what we were looking for." But the Whitecaps are also looking at that area in a player's life and career between youth team and the pro ranks, and feel their investment and plans in that regard will also attract players to join their academies. The 'Caps are naturally fully aware some players won't make the grade at all, while others may need a bit more time and development before they're candidates for the MLS squad. That's obviously where the USL team comes in and the now established pathway between the Residency, that and the first team. The Whitecaps are now fully embedded up at the University of British Columbia. The USL team play out of UBC's Thunderbird Stadium, the MLS squad primarily train there and the 'Caps new, state of the art training centre will be up and running there soon. But being on a university campus gives the club another opportunity to explore to ensure that young players throughout Canada want to be part of the Whitecaps system from the ground level up - giving the players both a football and a college education. In the past, if players graduated from the Residency their options were limited and if they wanted to plan for the future and get a degree, then going down the NCAA or CIS college route was really the only way to go, but that meant putting your pro footballing aspirations on hold for four or five years, or more often than not, for good. But that is no longer the case and the Whitecaps USL team can present a player with an opportunity to do both. WFC2 defender Chris Serban is the perfect first example of that. Serban graduated from the Whitecaps Residency program last summer and headed to UBC, becoming a pivotal player for the UBC Thunderbirds team and winning Rookie of the Year honours. The talented full-back then signed a pro contract with the 'Caps to play in USL in February and a key driving force behind his decision to do that was the fact that he could play football and continue his studies and degree at UBC at the same time. Ben McKendry came out of college at New Mexico in his Junior year to sign a MLS contract with the 'Caps and is now looking to finish the final year of his degree at UBC in his spare time. Going forward, the Whitecaps are actively exploring options with the university to offer players both an education and a USL contract. It's something that would attract players from not just Canada, but worldwide. And with such an option and path on the table for them it should also act as another driving reason for young Canadians to choose the Whitecaps and their academies over other teams. Not all would, or could, take that path but the carrot would most certainly be there to strive to achieve it. "It's been discussed," Mallett told us. "It's a unique asset we have and there's certain parts like that. Being a father, education is very important. It's not the UK model and other parts of the world where it's not looked at, at the level it is here. So we believe we have the asset. UBC is interested in doing that and we believe that could be a unique offering for our club." But back to the Academies. Thursday's announcement will make it 14 Academy Centres in four provinces, with more to come. But the key to the expansion of these Academies is to not overreach too soon or too fast and to protect the quality standard in each Centre before moving on to the next one. But the Whitecaps already know that there's a huge demand from kids across Canada to be part of their set-up. "We prefer to go slow growth," Lenarduzzi told us. "There are kids in other parts of Canada that we've identified that we'd love to relocate. We think that they're that talented. You can't discount the branding aspect of it as well, from a commercial point of view, but it is development driven. "We feel that if we can get ourselves around the country and for that matter, eventually other parts of the world as well, what we don't want to do is to feel like we've got the plan and do more than we're actually capable of doing. "Bart Choufour [Whitecaps Pre-Residency head coach] is now full time with us and that's made a huge difference because he's been able to get to these Academies outside and within British Columbia and provide the curriculum that the different clubs that we're working with and provincial associations are just desperate to have it." So just what is the plan for these Academy Centres and just where do they fit into the 'Caps current Residency program? For now, they will operate as 'Prospects' and 'Skills' Academies, playing games locally and provincially. The players will be monitored and assessed and once the Whitecaps identify a player as having that top potential to make the next step, they will be invited to head west to join the Residency program and play for their age appropriate side in USSDA. As the Academy Centres continue to grow the Whitecaps also haven't ruled out putting further teams into the USSDA in years to come. "I think looking down the road that is something that we'd certainly consider," Lenarduzzi added. "But what we want to do first and foremost is just make sure that we're doing a good job of what we're doing currently." The eagle eyed amongst you will also have noticed the throwaway line above about expanding outwith Canada. So to us, that clearly meant a South American Academy! Grow our own Latino talent. They do come on trees right? As ridiculous as that may sound (Barcelona are in Burnaby now after all), we did in fact ask about that and the 'Caps aren't ruling anything out! "We want to do what we're doing right now well," Lenarduzzi replied with a smile. "But then there's no reason why, as we evolve, that you can't look at that kind of situation. Then as those opportunities present themselves look at them for sure." Just let that sink in for a few seconds. The Whitecaps 'brand' on the lips of people outside of Canada and North America. Jeff Mallett feels it's not as out of the box as you may have initially thought and he's witnessed the huge rise in awareness in Major League Soccer and its teams these past few years, and the Whitecaps want to be a part of that and play a part in developing that awareness further. "I get to travel a lot in the football circles, not just in the UK but in different parts, and the MLS on people's radar," Mallett told us. "Just in the last year, it has changed dramatically. It really has as a viable option to come in. The teams that have come in with a second team in LA, the New York team, with Manchester City involved. "So when you go around and talk to real people involved in football, sitting down working with these 16s and 18s in these countries, it's on the map. Legitimately on the map. Honestly, two years ago, people were aware of it but not much talk, but it's come a long way. "So for us to be out there is not a bad idea. Nothing in the foreseeable future. We've got so much work to do here to finish this off before we scope, planting flags too far abroad." Never say never though!
  2. The game got off to the best possible start for the young 'Caps when Cole Morokhovich headed home Daniel Sagno's cross just over a minute in. It looked like the scene was set for a joyous and historic night up on the mountain at SFU and the Whitecaps went for the killer second. Despite numerous chances, with Terran Campbell having a dipping long range effort tipped over the bar midway through the half, and several goalmouth scrambles, that second goal didn't come and the 'Caps were soon made to rue those missed opportunities. While Vancouver dominated the first half, Georgia United came out all guns blazing to start the second and thought they'd got back on levels terms four minutes in when USSDA leading scorer, the 32 goal Patrick Okonkwo, powerfully headed home a free kick but was called offside. But the 'Caps didn't learn from their slack defensive play and were soon punished seconds later when the outstanding Andrew Carleton, who just turned 15 in June, curled home a low cross to tie things up. Vancouver nearly restored their lead when Campbell went on a strong run and flashed a shot just past the left post in the 54th minute and it was those fine lines that Carl Robinson always talks about as Georgia went up the pitch and scored. It was Carleton again, this time brilliantly curling a free kick around the wall and perfectly placing it into the bottom right corner of the net. Quite the turnaround but it only served to spur the Vancouver players on in front of the large crowd and Michael Baldisimo tied things up again with then minutes remaining, coolly slotting home a Kadin Chung cross that came through to him at the back post. 2-2 and very much game on. That goal set up a grandstand finish, with both goalkeepers needing to be in top form. Georgia pushed hard to finish it in normal time and Frazer Poulter was lucky to see his attempted clearance head goalbound but tipped around the post from under the crossbar by Luciano Trasolini. The 'Caps keeper was called into action again moments later when another Carleton free kick looked to be heading in before Trasolini tipped it on to the cross bar and Poulter cleared the headed rebound off the goalline. Vancouver were on the rack and Trasolini stood tall again to tip another dipping Carleton effort on to the bar, this time a long range deflected one from just inside the 'Caps half. But the 'Caps had the final chance of normal time when Campbell saw his effort cleared off the line and we were heading to two ten minute periods of extra time where first Nicolas Apostal and then Noah Verhoeven had chances to win it for Vancouver in the closing moments, but found Georgia keeper Samuel Morton in fantastic form. And I still feel the Caps should have got a penalty in the first half of extra time! So it came to penalties. Midfielder Munir Saleh (pictured below), who had been excellent throughout, stepped up first but saw Morton save his kick. The next nine were all buried, perfectly placed as well, and Georgia advanced 5-4 on pens to face New York Red Bulls in the semi-final in Carson California this coming Thursday. A truly heartbreaking end and Wednesday's loss will still sting for the losing 'Caps and hurt like hell these many hours later. But they should be proud of the performance they put in, the season they had and what lies ahead for them. Carl Robinson was there to offer some words of encouragement to the team at the final whistle, but just what do you say a group of young guys to pick them up after a game like that where they left everything out on the pitch? "I said to them football's happens like that," Robinson told AFTN. "Sometimes decisions are made by the gentleman up above that you don't agree with and it's important you learn from these occasions and these times and these moments. "But more importantly they had all their loved ones in the crowd supporting them. I said to them when I'm finished talking go over there and give them a hug because they're the ones that will be there for you through thick and thin, whether things go well or not. "And I said, they should be proud of themselves because they did everything to win the game. Unfortunately the penalty shoot-out, as we found out last year in the Amway Cup when Toronto beat us at home, they didn't deserve to beat us, they did, it happens. But it's how you grow as a player from that." And although it may not feel like it right now, this game will be a great moment of growth for all of the players and teach them some valuable lessons in their development. Might all sound a bit clichéd but it is true. The loss should hit home hard the need to take their chances for one. The 'Caps could have been out of sight by half time. It'll also let some players know where they are compared to their peers and what they need to work on over the summer. It was a great team effort, but there were some fantastic individual performances in there, all of which should be used as a springboard to further develop their games. Robinson agrees. "Some fantastic performances from some of the individuals," Robinson told us. "I went round and I spoke to some of the individuals because I felt they deserved the respect of me speaking to them as a group but also individually. "Kadin Chung and Tommy Gardner were absolutely fantastic. Munir, who missed the penalty, tough moment for him, but he'll come strong. He was the best midfielder on the park for me, without a doubt. We've got some great young talent, great young Canadian talent, coming through." Little comfort to Vancouver but they lost to a very good Georgia side with some really strong talent. Morton was a different maker in goal and was solid throughout, keeping his team in the game in the first half. It was clear to see why Okonkwo had hit so many goals this season. He looked a player mature above his years and it's no wonder he's picked up a full ride scholarship from my eavesdropping in on relation's conversations! Then what can you say about Carleton? The Man of the Match, two great goals, couple of other close calls and coolly tucked away the winning penalty. He's already been capped by the US at youth level and certainly seems to be one to watch. I wonder if Robbo managed to stick some discovery rights on him! Georgia were delighted by their win, as they should be. Celebrating three times on the pitch in front of the shattered 'Caps was perhaps a bit excessive (once at the final whistle and two rounds of Olés), but it's what I would have hoped the Caps would have done if they had won down there. And if they wouldn't have (too un-Canadian?) then they need to add that side to their game if they want to make it. We need players that have that niggle to rub victory and success into the faces of those who they have beaten. Nice guys don't win in this game, you need that ruthless streak. That they also need to learn. If I was U16 head coach and U18 head coach Rich Fagan, I would use those celebrations to spur the guys on come the new season starting in September. Take this picture below: Print it off, pin it up in the dressing room and remind the guys how they felt with the defeat last season. Remind them how bad it was to see Georgia celebrate winning on their turf and tell them to make sure they don't have that feeling again come next year's playoffs. You grow and develop by using such failures and low points to take you to that next level. It can sometimes be the best motivation going. So what about the future? Well the Residency program certainly appears to be in great shape. This U16s group is likely the one that will produce the next crop of homegrown talent to join the MLS and USL squads. Half the group will move up to the U18 level next season. They've all got another two or three years of development at youth level ahead of them but if they continue to develop and fulfill their potential, you can see a number of the players making the next jump when they graduate from the Residency program. The Whitecaps have the highest number of homegrown signings on their roster in all of MLS (eight and counting). The latest additions of Marco Bustos and Kianz Froese are blazing a trail for this current group of young talent. Then you have all the homegrown guys on the USL roster as well. It was great to see so many former homegrown players, and other MLS first teamers, in attendance on Wednesday night in a crowd of several hundred. It lets the young players know that this is a Club. A Club with a pathway from the first team all the way down to the pre-Residency teams. The path is set now for the players in the Residency. They have something to clearly aspire to and that is one of the most pleasing aspects of the Whitecaps for Robinson right now. "We've created a clear pathway now, which is the hardest thing to do because sometimes clubs are disjointed and they don't have that pathway to create for young players to easily transition through from the Residency to USL to the first team," Robinson told us. "My job, 18 months ago, was to try and create a pathway and I think I've done that by playing the guys in the first team. "Creating a pathway with the USL, the club have been fantastic giving us support with the USL team, which is an important part of their development and we've got great young talent coming through the Under 16s and 18s now. There certainly is and it's not just here in Vancouver. The Whitecaps have set up a string of academies recently on Vancouver Island and throughout other parts of British Columbia, expanding into their development territories in Saskatchewan and Manitoba and soon to be western Ontario if reports are to be believed. It's a great investment from the club and one which will just add to the Residency talent in years to come, but Robinson doesn't want to rest on his laurels and stop there. "I want to go a step further and I want to try and identify these guys as 11, 12 and 13-year-olds," Robinson added. "We don't want to miss any talent because if we do, we're not doing our jobs correctly. So it's a lot of work, a lot of miles, a lot of conversations but it's definitely worthwhile because if you look at the bigger picture, we want to find the best Canadians. "It'll happen over a period of time. It's not going to happen overnight and it's a process. We've got the first steps in the correct order with our process. Now we've got to go and find more players and find the best players because we don't just want standard players, we want the top players, because there are top players out in Canada, without a doubt."
  3. "I've been in Vancouver probably eight, nine years now," Day told AFTN. "So my history with the club is that I was kind of with the Residency before then I moved away to take another job then upon coming back I was kind of in and round the club and the PDL group last year, and working with Niall [Thomson] and Steve Meadley last year. "It's just kind of dovetailed since then, coming back into the Residency, but it's where I wanted to be. I've wanted to be involved for a long time and lots of discussion with the club." Englishman Day headed back to Vancouver with nearly 13 years of coaching experience under his belt. After spending close to five years as a staff coach with Charlton Athletic Community Trust, Day first came to Canada, and British Columbia, in April 2008 where he took up the role of head coach with Quest University in Squamish for nearly three years. During his final year at Quest, Day also took on the role of Staff Coach with the Whitecaps Residency program for the first time and was head coach of the Youth Prospects sides before moving on to the much sunnier climes of Greece to become the Elite Academy Director with Arsenal FC's first Greek academy in Loutraki. Nice work if you can get! After a couple of years in Greece, Day returned to BC where apart from being a staff coach with 'Caps PDL side last season, he has been head coach of Surrey United's U17 boys and U16 girls teams, technical consultant with West Coast FC and an assistant coach with the Whitecaps Girls Elite Regional Excel Centre program. It's interesting, but not unusual over here, to find a coach that has taken charge of both boys and girls sides, but Day feels what he's learned from his involvement in the women's game has been nothing but beneficial to his own development and in what he can bring to the 'Caps U16s. "As far as coaching the girls sides, it's only as long as I've been in this country I've done it to be honest," Day told us. "I've enjoyed it. I think some coaches are scared of coaching on the female side, but I can say from first hand that there's a lot of things you can learn coaching on the female side that are very useful to use on the male side. "So this has all not been new to me. I've coached professional athletes before at the Junior level, so just really excited to be here and enjoying every minute of it." Day's wealth of previous experience and his existing knowledge of the Whitecaps Residency program certainly set him in good stead for his appointment and allowed for a smooth progression once in situ. "It's been good," Day told us. "Like you say, I've been in and around the club for quite a few years now, so as far as the transitional period goes, it's probably one of the easiest ones that's going to be there. I'm sure that was factor in bringing me into the club. "It's a good group, well it's better than that, it's an excellent group. I think the mandate for me was to try and continue on the work that has been done in the past and try and improve it leading into the playoffs and not really try to change too much. It's a group that's expected to do well and I think part of my job has just been to carry that on." And carry it on he has. The 'Caps U16's finished the season unbeaten in their last five games, winning four of them, as they wrapped up the Northwest Division of the West Conference for the second straight year. They've continued that into the playoffs, winning their first group match on Tuesday 6-1 against Concorde Fire and look to be a good bet to make the quarter-finals once again and hopefully beyond. The players have played a big part in the smooth transition. The current U16 set-up is like a well-oiled machine and plays as a very cohesive unit. The 2012/13 USSDA season had been a tough one for the U16s but one of what can now be seen to be a huge benefit. The 'Caps fielded a very young squad, with a lot of U15s and even U14s seeing gametime. The thinking behind it was to keep a core group together for more than just the two seasons. Grow them together and develop a chemistry and understanding that would reap the benefits on the pitch. The U16s performances for these past two seasons have proved that plan to be a huge success and the chemistry that exists within the squad has made it easy for whoever comes in as head coach. "Yeah it has," Day admitted. "It always happens that way. Part of our job, of course, is to push players up and a lot of the guys have been with Rich in the Under-18s this year. We made a conscious decision to bring those guys back, well predominantly most of those guys back, for the playoffs. "When you're looking for cohesion in the team, the more the players have played with one another and trained with one another, it just becomes more natural to them. It's a very fluid group and we expect that to be a bonus and a strength for us going in to the playoffs." Another big boost for the U16s in this year's playoffs is the ability to draw on last year's experiences. A number of the squad were part of the 'Caps side that won their playoff group last year and advanced to a narrow quarter-final loss. Heartache and disappointment build character for sure and just makes a player hungrier to get that success. With a mix of returnees and new faces to the U16 squad, that experienced from last year will be important to draw upon this week and beyond in the playoffs. "I think it has to be," Day said. "Everyone's got those nerves going in to it, but the more players you've got that have been there and done it, it can just kind of put the other guys at ease. Those experienced players will know the standard, will know what to expect. There's trials and tribulations that are there with the weather, stop-start intervals and all that kind of stuff. We're going to need that experience for the younger players this week to really sort of kick us on. "But at the same time, you've got to also gain that experience by doing it. That doesn't mean that because you're a first year going in to this tournament that you're going to be inexperienced, it's just part of your development and learning. But we see it as a benefit and hopefully that will be proven this week." As we mentioned in our piece on 'Caps U18 head coach Rich Fagan yesterday, all the players within the Whitecaps Residency at the moment now have a clear pathway from the pre-Residency groups all the way up the MLS first team. The WFC2 USL side was that vital missing link and having that team now, and seeing the likes of Jackson Farmer, Jordan Haynes and Mitch Piraux come all the way through the 'Caps youth ranks and into that squad, has given a boost and a generated a buzz for Day's U16 group. "Absolutely," Day told us. "You talk about my involvement with the club over the years and I've watched that grow as well. There is now that serious pathway from being a pre-Residency to making the first team. That wasn't always the case and since I've been here, that wasn't always the case. But now it is there and now it's genuine for these players to believe that they can be a professional footballer. "The USL team in it's own right is a professional team, that plays in a very good, competitive league and that's a good standard. Now, of course, the objective is MLS, but I think it's just opened a lot more doors for many players and they can now see that pathway a lot clearer than they did maybe two or three years ago." And with the talent in the current U16 set-up only likely to get stronger with a further two or three years development in the Residency program, you have to think that there's certainly a few of the current crop who will follow that pathway under Day and Fagan in the coming seasons.
  4. It's been a relatively good season for both the Whitecaps U16s and U18s. Strange to say just relatively when both teams have qualified for the playoffs? Well after the way it started, especially for the U18s, it looked like it was going to be a romp! Instead a lot of squad upheaval and some key departures from the program hit the 'Caps hard and it took them a few games to recover, regroup and find out where the goals were to come from once again. The Under 18s started the season in amazing form. They were unbeaten with 11 straight wins to kick off the 2014/15 campaign, banging in 43 goals in the process, including an 8-0 victory over Nomads SC. Hat-tricks were the order of the day with Marco Bustos bagging a few and Dario Zanatta joining in the fun. Bustos, who was captain of the squad, scored 16 goals in his 12 appearances for the U18s before the Caps management decided that his time and development would be served better training full-time with the MLS squad that he would be joining in January. The 'Caps considered allowing Bustos to fly down to join the guys for the playoffs to aid his recovery from injury and boost the team but some last minute niggles look to have prevented that. Losing Bustos was a big loss to the team but it provided the chance for others to step up and Zanatta took on that role before he decided to leave the 'Caps and the Residency program to explore opportunities overseas in February. Losing those two key players left a void, along with losing Kianz Froese, who was now with the MLS squad too, and some others who departed for non-footballing reasons. The 'Caps struggled at first. There were a lot of draws and the goals dried up a little, before the team started to hit their stride again and finished the season with three wins out of their last four games. The U18s dip in form saw them go from the number one ranked team in all of the USSDA to finishing 4th in a very strong Northwest Division of the Western Conference, ending the season with a record of 19 wins, 8 draws and 5 defeats, for a Point Per Game record of 2.03. To give you an idea of how tight the Division was, the second and third placed teams have a PPG of 2.06 and the 'Caps record gave them the 13th best record throughout the USSDA. But a wildcard place it was and that obviously meant the possibility of being drawn in alongside some of the top Academy teams. As it ended up, the 'Caps were drawn into Group A and kick off their playoff bid on Tuesday morning. They've been draw into a tough group alongside fellow MLS academy DC United, Shattuck-Saint Mary's and Oakwood Soccer Club. The good news for the 'Caps though is that none of their opponents won their Division. First up is Minnesota side Shattuck-Saint Mary's at 7am PT on Tuesday. The Faribault based side just missed out on top spot in the Mid-America Division of the Central Conference by 0.04 in the PPG stakes to Chicago Fire U18s. Draws were their downfall, with 11 on the season compared to just the three losses, but that was good enough to see them ranked 16th in the playoffs. With 59 goals scored and 33 conceded, the 'Caps will fancy their chances of getting off to a good start, but U18 coach Rich Fagan knows the excellent reputation of Shattuck-Saint Mary's in years gone by. "Shattucks have a really good pedigree and a really good history of always being kind of around that top 16 of the USSDA," Fagan told AFTN. "We play them first and I imagine that will be a really difficult game for us." A tough start and there's no rest for the U18s either, who are back in action at 7am PT the next day when they take on Oakwood Soccer Club. Oakwood play out of Portland, Connecticut (who knew?!) and finished 3rd in the Northeast Division of the East Conference behind winners Montreal Impact. Their 10-8-8 record saw them finish with a 1.46 PPG and despite their ranking of 21 in the playoff pool, look to be the easiest opposition for the 'Caps this week. "Oakwood, who we'll play in our second game, I really don't know too much about," Fagan admitted. "We've never faced them before. On paper it maybe looks like an easier division, but again, don't really know too much at this point about them." Hopefully the 'Caps will have six points in the bag by the end of that one, with fellow MLS academy DC United the opponents in their final group game at 6am PT on Friday. DC finished runners-up to the talented New York Red Bulls U18s in the Atlantic Division of the East Conference. They're ranked 8th in the Playoff Pool and finished the season with a 18-6-2 record and 2.15 PPG. With 82 goals scored and 38 conceded from their 26 matches, 22 goal Eryk Williamson looks to be their big attacking danger. "DC United play in probably one of the toughest divisions in the entire USSDA," Fagan told us. "They finished in second place behind the Red Bulls, who we've played three times in the last four years. It's always our toughest match. They're always our toughest opponents and it's always been close games between those two. "I don't want to say that that'll be the toughest game, but I imagine it will be one of the hardest of the three." It'll certainly be a challenge for the U18s. There's no doubting their defensive strength but can they do enough in attack to break down these teams? We'll soon find out but there is definitely a confident air amongst the group. The same can be said for the U16s, who made it back to back Northwest Division championships after a dominant season that sees them seeded 7th in the playoffs. The upheaval in the U18s meant a lot of players had to make the step up early this season to play at the higher level, but it just shows the depth of talent coming through the Whitecaps Residency system right now that despite missing those players, those remaining and those who were brought in stepped up and continued to strong play of the U16s all season long. The team finished the season with 20 wins, 7 draws and just 5 losses from their 32 matches, with a PPG record of 2.09. With 79 goals scored and only 34 against, the 'Caps were a scoring powerhouse, with Daniel Sagno (16 goals), Amanda Glorie (13) and Terran Campbell (11), leading the way. They recorded two 7-0 victories, one against Colorado Rush at home in November and away to Santa Cruz Breakers in May. The 'Caps U16s ended the season with four clean sheets in their final five matches and are heading into the playoffs looking to follow up on their group win at this stage last year. The U16s also kick off their playoff campaign on Tuesday, this time at the rather more toasty 1.30pm PT (which is 4.30pm local time). That in itself will be tough, but a number of the 'Caps players on both squads have played down there before and they were all training in Burnaby playing with jackets on in the hot temperatures we've had here the past few weeks, followed by saunas! First up for the U16's is Atlanta side Concorde Fire. The Fire didn't initially qualify for the playoffs after finishing 7th in the Southeast Division of the East Conference and one place outside the wildcard pool. But they're in now! How? No idea. Can't find it anywhere! Concorde finished the season 16-12-8, scoring 66 goals and conceding 64. They shouldn't pose too much of a problem for the freescoring 'Caps. Once the Fire have been extinguished, the 'Caps are out for some revenge on Wednesday when they face Chicago Magic PSG, again at 1.30pm PT. The Magic beat the 'Caps U16s 2-1 at the quarter-final stage last season, in a controversial home match for Vancouver that had to be played south of the border in Bellingham due to passport issues for the Chicago side and featured some dodgy refereeing calls. Chicago Magic finished 4th in the Mid-America Division of the Central Conference this season with a 12-6-9 record and 42 goals for and 32 against. That sees them as the 5th wildcard team, so the 'Caps are favourites to get that revenge. The final group game is on Friday at 8.15am, so at least they'll have it a bit cooler when they take on Arsenal. The Californian Gunners finished runners up to the LA Galaxy in the Southwest Division of the West Conference with a 21-12-6 record. The Norco based side banged in 57 goals and conceded 34, ending up with 15th placed ranking in the playoff mix. The 'Caps already know the danger that Arsenal can be, with the Californians serving up the 'Caps first defeat of the season in October and that 1-0 away loss was to be the only match the U16's lost in their first 14 games. On paper, the U16's look to have a fairly easy group. But as we've said numerous times before, football's played on grass (or turf!) and not paper. You don't want to take anything for granted but at the same time, this group of players should have the self-confidence and belief that they have what it takes to advance to the quarter-finals for the second year running. "I think we have to stress that to the players," U16 head coach Adam Day told AFTN. "There's always anxiety and nerves and excitement going in to it, but we have to try and eliminate that and really look at the black and white facts. "We are the best team in the group and we're the best team for a reason. We have to believe in all the hard work we've done on and off the field and really go there and make a statement and send a message to everybody else." But Day stressed that there's a difference between going into the playoffs in confident mood and take any team for granted. "We're under no illusions," he continued. "We're not going to take anybody lightly because anything can happen over the course of 90 minutes, but we should feel confident in what we do because we feel we're one of the best, if not THE best, in North America and it's down to us to prove it. That's not a pressure to the guys, it's a reality of what we expect from them." And those expectations of just how well the Whitecaps teams will do in this year's Academy playoffs runs high throughout the club. Watching the week play out with much interest from afar, with be the Whitecaps' MLS coach Carl Robinson. Robinson has always shown a lot of interest in the 'Caps Residency program since coming to Vancouver as assistant coach in 2012. You'd expect nothing less, of course, from a coach who loves to play and develop young players. So how does he view the chances of both sides this time around, and just what would it mean to the club for one or both of them to come home with the Championship trophy in July? "It's very important," Robinson told AFTN. "I sat down with the parents of the 14s, 16s and 18s on Tuesday night to discuss the progress of the club moving forward. We talk about young players being given opportunities and I said to them I can stand here and say we will give your son a chance and if I never played young players in my first team then they'd probably look straight through me. "I said the proof is in the pudding and the pudding is right there in front of us in that we've got homegrown Residency players in our first team MLS squad. We don't need to say it, we're showing it and we're doing it and we want your son, providing he's ready, to be the next one to come through." "The Academy finals are huge. It sets a marker for us. I firmly believe that we can go and do very well there. I believe we can go and win it. Why not? Because in any tournament you enter you want to go on and win. But it will show the strength of the program because if we want to attract the best young players, we've got to show we're playing young players but we've got to show we're successful as well. It's a great stepping stone for us if we can go on and win it."
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