Vancouver Whitecaps Residency has been consistently strong year upon year. With regular Division titles and playoff appearances for both the U16 and U18 sides since joining the USSDA in 2011, the young ‘Caps seem to have had a conveyor belt of BC and Canada-wide talent regularly coming through the program.
Six of the Whitecaps MLS roster are recent Residency graduates, as are 10 players on the USL side. But one of the criticisms of the program over recent years is that no matter how many squad members they may produce, no homegrown talent has established himself as a regular, first choice starter for the Whitecaps in their six MLS seasons so far.
We can debate reasons for that another time, and many people have their own ideas as to why that might be, ranging from the development not being strong enough before the Whitecaps get them, to the players simply not being good enough compared to the other talent available to the ‘Caps once they get into the adult game.
Hopes are high that some of the current crop of already signed MLS homegrowns, and those USL players pushing to be the next ones, will buck that trend.
As we’ve discussed many times now, establishing the ‘Caps own USL side has been one of the crucial missing links to these players development. The experience the likes of Residency alumni Ben McKendry and Marco Bustos are getting with WFC2 in that competitive USL environment is making them better players, adding to their development and giving them vital game minutes.
It’s an environment that the likes of Bryce Alderson and Philippe Davies missed out on at perhaps the most important time of their development – making the move from youth to adult football. It’s an environment that wasn’t there for the likes of Daniel Stanese and Ben Fisk when they graduated from the Residency program, resulting in them both now playing their football over in Europe.
So if we’re still talking ten years into the MLS era that the Whitecaps still don’t have any established homegrown starters, then we need to start looking a lot deeper than the players having opportunities to continued to develop in their key youth to adult years.
The current crop of Residency talent, and those already signed to USL contracts from the program, looks to be the strongest the club has had at its disposal. The depth in quality goes way beyond even the U16 team right now, with a conveyor belt of talent looking to come up through the ranks over the next few years.
Fitting them all into the USL set up could start to become a problem if, and it is still a big if, the players continue with their development, improvement and prospects. There is some real excitement within the club about what the ceiling will be for this group of Residency talent.
And the Residency program is set to get even stronger over the years to come, thanks to the increasing number of Whitecaps Academy Centres being set up from coast to coast in Canada.
The end of May saw the announcement of the three latest Academy Centres, with the Whitecaps now having their footprint on the football scene in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island. The ‘Caps now have Academy Centres in seven of Canada’s ten provinces.
We’ve written about the importance of these Centres, and what they mean to the Whitecaps future, before. They are opening up a vast talent pool across the country. The ‘Caps now have the pick of up and coming players Canada-wide to bring into their Residency program side.
All of which bodes well for the Whitecaps and the results are already being seen.
“They’re expanding all the time too,” ‘Caps U16 head coach Adam Day told AFTN. “Frank Ciaccia coming in the same time as myself last year on the recruitment side of it. We’ve been up and down the country to try and find the best talent to merge with the BC talent and so far the scouting network has really proved pivotal.
“Obviously Alphonso is a noticeable one right now, but Theo Bair has come in and Andres Charles-Barrera has come in from out of province. Both have equally done fantastically well and have had their spells with the 18s this year, so everything has just fallen into place right now.”
You don’t have to look very far to see the importance of out-of-province talent to the Whitecaps. Of the six homegrown players on the MLS roster, only Ben McKendry is a BC boy. Sam Adekugbe and Marco Carducci are from Alberta, Marco Bustos and Kianz Froese from Manitoba, and Russell Teibert headed west from Ontario. The USL side has five from BC, four from Alberta and a lone Ontario representative, from the ten recently signed Residency players.
Right now though, the Residency program is still very much packed with BC talent. Of the 46 players named on the Whitecaps U18 and U16 rosters, 35 of them (76%) hail from British Columbia.
Most came from local clubs, but as Day says, the impact of the first Academy prospects to be brought in is already being seen, and Ethan Gopaul will join the U18 next season from the ‘Caps London Academy Centre in Ontario, with 12-year-old Kamloops Academy prospect Wil Calne making the move into the pre-Residency program.
If the Whitecaps plan comes to the fruition, they’re hoping they’ll be followed by a regular new crop of players season upon season.
So what exactly are the Academy Centres and how do they fit in with the whole Whitecaps pyramid?
In short, the Academy Centres are a network of regional training hubs linked through key staff, curriculum, and standards that provide professional supplemental club training for serious, motivated players. The ultimate goal is to help both club and country.
“One of our key mandates as a club is to help Canada get back to the men’s World Cup, and to help our women’s national team continue to succeed,” Whitecaps President Bobby Lenarduzzi said recently. “We’re proud to be partnering with like-minded provincial governing bodies to grow the sport across the country, and to help create a professional development pathway for every young Canadian player. We look forward to working together to continue to raise standards and provide opportunities.”
A standard curriculum and training methods are a fundamental part of the Academy Centres and every part of the Whitecaps organisation, from first team down. To ensure that is happening, the Whitecaps have been focussing on more development for their coaches throughout the system, with the chance to see first hand how things are done in Vancouver at MLS, USL and Residency levels.
“We had a meeting a few weeks ago as a club in trying to get more integration going between all the different groups,” WFC2 head coach Alan Koch told us. “Having had a chat with Bart Choufour, we have invited some of the Academy Centre coaches to come in and they can see how we’re doing things.
“It’s more professional development for them, so that when they go back to their Academy Centres they can make sure that they’re doing the same things that we’re doing here.”
The Residency coaches have more of the regular involvement with the Academy Centres, but Koch had nothing but praise for what they will mean to the Whitecaps future moving forward, both on and off the pitch.
“It’s good from a development perspective,” Koch told us. “For those players to get an opportunity to work their way up the pyramid from there and then coming in to the Residency program. But it’s also good for the club from a branding perspective too.
“You continue to grow your brand and you can grow that in many different ways, but spreading your wings like this is a big part of growing the business and help us gather more players that we can work with to develop and ultimately push them all up to the first team.”