It’s been a long time coming, but WFC2 will finally have their first USL home match on Sunday, when Toronto II head to Thunderbird Stadium.
After kicking off their inaugural season with four tough games on the road, the Whitecaps now head back to Vancouver for the first of back to back home matches.
It’s been a tough start to the team’s life in USL. Four games played, three defeats and kept off the scoresheet in their three losses. It’s looked men against boys at times out there and that’s basically because it has been in some games.
The Caps are a young side. A very young side. And they’re coming up against some older teams that mean business and are looking more towards the USL Championship than development.
There’s been some terrible defending along the way and despite sounding doom and gloom, there’s also been some positives as well, the main one being that these guys are actually getting playing time instead of kicking their heels waiting to get a chance in the first team or having to look outside of Vancouver.
Still very early days and the team is still finding their feet and their chemistry, but there’s already quite a few talking points from WFC2’s first month of playing.
The first one is that old chestnut of just what should we be expecting from the team? Should we be primarily focused on results? Development? A combination of both?
The latter is the perfect answer. That WFC2 becomes both a winning team that is developing future Whitecaps MLS talent. That’s the goal. That’s the dream. It’s obviously not the current reality. Not yet at least.
My argument will always be that to develop players, results matter. A winning team breeds winners. We need confident and successful players, who have had that taste and want more at the higher level. It’s an old cliché, but winning really is infectious.
If you look at the ‘Caps results so far, how much does a 4-0 thumping by Seattle develop a player? Sure, it can build resilience and a desire improve their game and to do better next time, but it can also sow the seeds of doubt that they’re maybe not as far along the road as they think they are as a player.
Some will argue that development is all that really matters for WFC2. The team is a chance for players to get minutes and for coaches to assess just whether they are future MLS prospects or whether they should cut their losses and move on to the next guy.
You can’t get a proper look at a player in training, in friendlies or reserve matches. They need competitive action and USL will certainly give them that on a regular basis. Who cares if they win or lose, just so long as they develop and get ready for, hopefully, the move to the next level?
When you’re charging money to go and watch the team play at Thunderbird though, fans want to see a winning, or at the very least an entertaining, product on the pitch. How many will continue to pay on a regular basis to see a team that is simply learning and developing but not winning?
That’s the big question. Fans will know this is a developmental team, but will they want to pay to watch that? It’s certainly a step up from PDL in terms of the overall standard, but you were struggling to get over 100 at those games and they were free. And the Caps were winning.
There will be over 2000 fans there for the home opener. A great start and something for the Caps to build on for sure.
But back to the whole winning v development argument. It’s complicated and Carl Robinson agrees.
“Results, it’s tricky, because we want to win every game that we play, at whatever level we’re playing at,” Robinson told reporters this week. “But it’s also about getting players minutes and developing young players as well, so it’s an important tool for us this year, WFC2.”
Part of the issues for WFC2 so far is the lack of chemistry and the lack of consistency in their starting line-up. The team is chopping and changing every game so far.
There were five changes to the starting eleven from their first game in Seattle, to their next game, their first win, in Austin. Now normally, you wouldn’t want to change a winning team but there were a further five changes from Austin to game three against Orange County. Then a staggering nine changes for the most recent match, the midweek loss in Sacramento.
It’s not conducive to a winning formula. I’m not really sure it’s conducive to a good developmental formula for the players either. The Caps will know that, Alan Koch will knows that and Robbo knows it, but it’s a situation that isn’t likely to, or able to, change any time soon.
“I want to try and get a rhythm into the team,” Robinson told us. “Obviously Alan does as well. It’s tricky. They’ve had a number of away games at the moment. Three games in a week is always going to be difficult as well. I’ve shown with my group here that there will be players in and out and there will be again on Saturday.
“It’s not ideal, but it is a platform for us to get players minutes and to get players experience but also get some of the younger guys up as well from the Residency. And keep everyone happy. That’s important.”
When it comes to consistency, tied into that is the fact that WFC2 coach Koch doesn’t always know what players he has at his disposal and what players Robinson wants to get minutes until very close to kick off time.
MLS players have been loaned to the USL team for every game so far. Some haven’t been loaned until the night before the match, as was the case this past weekend when Kianz Froese and Tim Parker were only added to the USL squad once the ‘Caps MLS match had finished in San Jose. And in the case of the former, that meant playing in both matches and having to travel the near six hour trip on the morning of the Orange County game.
Again, not ideal, but again, there’s not any way around it right now and it was always going to be the case. All the parties involved knew that. If anything, with all the games coming up for the Whitecaps over the next few months, the problem is just going to be exacerbated.
“We want results,” Robinson reiterated. “We want to do as well as we can in the USL. We want to do as well as we can in MLS. During the season it’s going to happen, with the Canadian games coming up for us and the Champions League eventually well when the draw gets made.
“Alan’s team will be dependent on what I do with my team and who plays in my team, so unfortunately I think that’s the way it’s going to be.”
There have been some positives to come out of the WFC2 so far however.
I’ve personally liked what I’ve seen of goalkeeper Spencer Richey so far, obviously aside from being beaten by a 60 yard wondergoal. Even the best get beaten by such strikes at times. Just ask David Ousted.
He’s looked confident and assured and has a clean sheet to his name as well.
Local midfielder, and Residency alumni, Sahil Sandhu has started three of the four games so far and has impressed at times, especially in his workrate. As has his fellow midfielder, Victor Blasco, who certainly has some skills not seen from others in the squad.
It is slightly worrying that the MLS players that have dropped down to the team have, on the whole, not really shone all that much.
Others will start to shine in the coming weeks I’m sure, and for the players that do well, Robinson wants to reward them with training stints with the first team.
“Yes, without a doubt,” Robinson told us. “I’ve spoke to the guys about that in the early part of the year because six or seven of my guys went up to the USL team to play in a practice match and the USL team beat the Major League Soccer players 4-1.
“It was an eye opener for them and I stressed then to Alan and stressed to the group that if I believe someone is doing well in USL, and I think that there are one or two at the moment who are emerging, they will be given the opportunity to train down here.
“Will they be able to play for us? Probably not at the moment but I think the carrot of coming down to train with this group shows it works both ways. It’s not just a downward tool where we’re allowing players to go down and get games but also an upward tool where if you do well in that team you’ll get the opportunity to train with the first team, which is always important.”
Whitecaps fans will finally get the chance to watch the new team in person on Sunday. Just who they’ll see will be dependent on what squad Robbo takes down to Utah. The luxury of having a player on the bench against RSL and then play for USL the next day isn’t an option for this one.
“The guys that travel with me to Salt Lake won’t be involved unfortunately because by the time we get back, just before kick off on Sunday, it’s not ideal for them,” Robinson told us. “There’s no preparation, Alan can’t prepare his team for that game. The guys that travel won’t be involved on Sunday, so we’ll have to make some decisions today based on that.”
But whoever takes the pitch against TFC II on Sunday, the important thing is that they give a good account of themselves. You only get one chance to make a first impression. There will be nerves, especially from some of the local lads, and the pressure will be on.
That in itself is all part of the learning curve and development of these players after all.
It’s going to be a good crowd, it’s going to be a beautiful day. Let’s hope for a fantastic performance to cap it all of. And remember, results do matter. Especially when you’re playing Toronto.