Yesterday’s announcement that the Whitecaps hope to have their own USL Pro side up and running in time for the 2015 season has been welcomed in most quarters.
As we covered yesterday, this new team is finally the crucial missing link for the Whitecaps young MLS and Residency talent to get the vital competitive, game minutes that they so badly need for their growth and development, but it goes well beyond that.
“When you look at anywhere in the world outside of Canada and the United States, youth teams are important but what’s even more important is that what you’re doing at the youth level, it’s a numbers game,” Whitecaps President Bobby Lenarduzzi told reporters at yesterday’s press conference to announce the Caps’ new team.
“You have a lot of kids involved but history tells you there will be a small percentage of those kids that will actually be good enough to play for the senior team. The gap between youth and senior is very significant and if those kids like [Marco] Bustos, Kianz Froese, Marco Carducci, if they can’t get meaningful games, it stunts their development. It’s paramount.”
The Whitecaps’ new USL Pro side should play a big part in helping the team become a force to be reckoned with in Major League Soccer in years to come but in amongst all of that is what the new side will mean for Canadian soccer and local footballing talent.
The whole “Whitecaps hate Canada” claptrap that is spouted by many can be disputed on so many levels and has really become a parody of itself. Yet still some believe it. Vancouver Whitecaps (in whatever their form) are Canada’s most successful football club and have done so much for the Canadian game at both club and international level. This new team will only add to that legacy.
Canadian players will now have another, high level option that doesn’t involve having to leave the country to go and play at US colleges or overseas in lower leagues. There will no quota on the amount of Canadians that can be in the side, and whereas I don’t really care where the Caps get their MLS players from, so long as they’re winning matches, it’s always more special when it’s local guys that are helping to achieve that, especially when you’ve watched them coming through the ranks from academy to first team.
And with that should come a huge boost for the Canadian national team at all their levels.
“There’s lots of things to be excited about and in my opinion the most important thing is our young players and providing them with that vehicle to be good players,” Lenarduzzi feels.
“Great players with the Whitecaps but at the same time go on and represent their country. How good would it be if we can be part of an initiative that allows our better young players to get to the stage where they get us back to the World Cup?”
With the 2014 World Cup coming to an end, it’s hard not to look back on this year’s mostly entertaining tournament and think how even more interesting it would have been to Canadians if they had their own country to cheer for at it.
Following Canada’s sole appearance at Mexico 86, it’s often felt like a pipe dream for the red and white to appear on the world’s stage again. Lenarduzzi was there of course in Mexico and feels that the only way to get Canada back there is through proper player development and that the Whitecaps’ new USL Pro side will have a big part to play in that.
“I was very proud to be at the World Cup in 1986,” Lenarduzzi said. “But 1986 was a long time ago and we need to be back at the World Cup and one of the things that we’re working on with the CSA and with the Provinces is a co-ordinated plan to give our best young players the opportunity to develop and to compete at the international level.
“I’m not saying that simply because we start this particular program that we’re going to get back to the World Cup in four years but we need a place for our best young players to play.
“Every four years the coach gets fired but we don’t address the root of the problem. The root of the problem is player development and this particular opportunity for us is a fantastic one.”
The Caps decision to start a D3 team in what is basically a US league has restarted the debate about whether the best way forward for Canadian soccer is for a nationwide D3 league set up by the CSA.
The CSA had previously stated that they would not sanction any more clubs at that level, although MLS sides are believed to be exempt from that ruling.
Ontario’s League 1 started this year, but hopes of a truly Canadawide league looks to be many years away from reality. With Seattle and Portland looking to add their own USL Pro teams, and with the urgency to provide this development portal for their young players, it really was an easy decision for the Whitecaps.
“A month or so ago there was a press conference in Toronto that the pro clubs attended and the CSA talked about what they want to do about player development,” Lenarduzzi explained.
“In a perfect world, we have a Canadian Soccer League. I’ve been through all that and that’s not something that unless people are willing to invest in each of these cities that we think is viable. So the idea of going north/south is really the direction that it needs to take.”
Factor in to that equation the Whitecaps long history with the USL and the fact that they already have their U23 side playing USL PDL and it looks like the perfect match.
“I love the fact that they’ve gone about it in a way that it’s primarily regionalised and it’s growing,” Lenarduzzi said of the USL. “What we’re doing here, LA are already doing. I would envision that within five to ten years, every MLS team will have a USL Pro team.”
So does this mean an end to the Caps U23 team? “Not necessarily,” Lenarduzzi says. The team has provided a place for the Whitecaps to look at local Canadian talent in recent seasons, not just from their Residency program but also from local leagues and the top colleges like UBC Thunderbirds.
That may continue and will give another avenue for Canadian talent trying to make the breakthrough.
“The one thing we have with the PDL is that we’re the only club with a grandfather clause where we can sign players to pro contracts and not go the collegiate route, which is really what the League is all about, to allow players to play in the summer and go back to school without losing their scholarships.
“In our case, we chose not to go that route. So we have that opportunity and in the past it’s allowed us to actually sign players to PDL contracts whilst we make decisions on them in terms of MLS.
“So, we don’t know so that’s something we’ll explore as we go through this process.”