Vancouver Whitecaps’ USL side, WFC2, demolished the Simon Fraser University Clan on Thursday afternoon in their penultimate friendly before their inaugural USL season gets underway next Sunday.
After a slow start, that saw the Clan take a 17th minute lead, the ‘Caps found their groove on a sodden pitch and took command of the game, with striker Mackenzie Pridham leading the way.
Pridham, a 2013 MLS SuperDraft pick for Vancouver, was on fire, grabbing four goals (one header, one tap in and two crackers) in a 22 minute period between the 30th and 52nd minutes to set up the win. Centre back Craig Nitti added a fifth with a close range header in the 85th minute to round off the scoring and give WFC2 a very comfortable win in the end.
It was a hardworking team performance, with some hiccups along the way, but it was Pridham who stole the show, putting in a confident display that bodes well for the season to come.
“It’s not the first time,” Pridham told AFTN after the match when we asked him if he’d scored four goals in a game before. “I’ve had a few multiple goal games in my career but first time as a pro.”
Pridham’s performance was the kind of explosive display the Whitecaps were hoping for from the 24-year-old Canadian when they made him the first selection in the fourth round of last year’s draft.
But it’s only now that the ‘Caps are able to get a proper look at the striker, after an ankle injury picked up at the combine sidelined him for longer than either party had hoped.
“I thought I was going to be able to be back in time to show with the Whitecaps, but unfortunately I wasn’t,” Pridham told us. “I ended up taking a different path and signing with Minnesota United and spent the year with them. Then when I heard about the Whitecaps creating the USL team and it being a possibility as an option, I definitely wanted to try and pursue it.
“It was good that it worked out for me because I think the club wants me and I want to be here, so it’s a good win-win relationship.”
Pridham has been a prolific scorer at high school and college level, and became the all-time leading scorer at Cal Poly, picking up back to back Big West Offensive Player of the Year awards in 2012 and 2013 in the process.
He was tipped to go as high as 12th in some of last year’s mock draft and Carl Robinson admitted that he was surprised to pick him up at what was 58th overall. When we spoke with him last February, Pridham was keen to show the Whitecaps what he could offer them and the way last season panned out, a goalscorer was just what the ‘Caps were needing.
But the year away from Vancouver may actually prove to be the most beneficial thing that could have happened for both the player and the Whitecaps.
When the rehab of his ankle was complete, Pridham signed with NASL side, and soon to be MLS side it would appear, Minnesota United. With a strong and experienced Minnesota side winning the NASL Spring Season Championship, Pridham got a fantastic grounding in the pro game and invaluable experience to now bring with him to WFC2.
“My time at Minnesota, I was able to learn a lot,” Pridham told us. “It’s a very professional set up and the players that were there were a lot of veteran players. All guys that had finished their careers playing in MLS, guys that had played in Europe, a lot of Brazilians, so our squad was filled with all older veterans that had been in and out of big leagues.
“So me coming in as a young guy, every single day at training and the whole environment, I was being pushed. I was going against the best defenders I’ve ever gone against and they pushed me and my game and my day to day efforts and knowledge and how to conduct myself. So from that standpoint, it definitely helped the progression of my career. I guess I just need the opportunity to get the minutes I need to be able to produce the goals I know I can produce.”
And that was the only problem for Pridham at Minnesota. With the wealth of experience ahead of him and the success the team were having, he found it difficult to break into the team, making only two appearances for United, one in the league and one in the US Open Cup, before being loaned out to USL PRO side Pittsburgh Riverhounds in the summer in order to get him some regular playing time.
With six appearances and one goal for Pittsburgh, the loan deal got Pridham back playing regularly again but it’s also given him a good understanding as to the quality in USL and what the Whitecaps need to do to be successful in the league this season.
How successful is still anyone’s guess right now. The WFC2 squad haven’t even been together a month yet, so the guys are still trying to be familiar with each other both on and off the pitch. But it’s coming, as their last two preseason outings have shown. They’re starting to look like a team starting to gel and look like a cohesive and dangerous attacking unit, with a strong defensive side. They’re also showing a lot of depth, with most of the MLS players missing from the line-up for the comprehensive SFU win.
It’ll take time for the team to truly find their feet and their groove, but Pridham has been impressed by the constant improvement he’s been seeing.
“It’s a first time team, so a lot of these guys, some of them have played together, but all in the all the whole group is still building it’s chemistry and camaraderie, both on and off the field. I think in the last three or four weeks, it’s really built. The link up play and team chemistry is slowly building and developing and you can see that in our performances.
“Beating Seattle last weekend 4-3, we had a great group effort and then today we had another good group effort, so the boys are putting it in, day in and day out, so it’s not a quick race it’s a marathon. The season is very long and we have depth, so we’ll learn and slowly develop it each day.”
The squad have one more preseason game lined up before the USL season gets underway. NCAA Division 1 side Oregon State Beavers head north to take on the ‘Caps at SFU on Sunday morning, with a 10am kick off.
With competition for places continuing to increase, it’s delighting coach Alan Koch. Everyone in the squad wants to be part of that first game, but whoever does end up taking the field, Pridham says they’ll be ready to compete from the first kick off.
“We got the guys from the first team, we’ve got the USL guys, and we’ve slowly gelled within this three or four week time,” he said. “Quicker than what normally would happen. We’ll only be able to develop that relationship even more and I know that our coaching staff will be able to put together a good squad to represent Whitecaps 2 and be ready for that game against Seattle and the rest of the season.”
Not long to wait now.