Vancouver Whitecaps USL PRO roster starting to take shape

Vancouver Whitecaps USL PRO roster starting to take shape

We may be looking forward to the start of the new USL PRO season, but it’s fair to say that information regarding the new Whitecaps team (WFC2) is somewhat thin on the ground right now.

The new USL PRO campaign will get underway at the end of March, and although we are still to find out who the head coach of the new Whitecaps team will be, which players will be on the roster and what the schedule will look like, it’s also fair to say that a lot of work is going on behind the scenes and we should see the results of it all soon.

There may have been no official squad announcements just yet, but from information we have gleaned and from conversations that we’ve had, we can start to piece together just what the new WFC2 roster may look like.

The ‘Caps have 30 USL PRO roster spots available to them. With the ability to move players up and down from both the MLS squad and the Residency, they won’t be carrying a full squad and the initial roster number will likely be in the low 20s range to allow Carl Robinson more flexibility.

In terms of these loan deals between Whitecaps teams, the process is quite simple.

Each player has to be registered as a USL PRO player to be able to play for WFC2. All loan deals have to go through the necessary paperwork and everything has to be ratified like a normal registration or transfer.

A player can be on both the Whitecaps’ MLS/Residency roster and the USL PRO roster at the same time. That also means that a player could potentially play for both sides over the course of a weekend.

Let’s take Kianz Froese as an example. He could be on the bench for the Whitecaps in MLS on the Saturday, maybe even getting a few minutes of action towards the end of the game, and then starting for the USL PRO team on the Sunday. Great for his development and expect that to be fully utilised, as Robinson looks to rehab injuries and get players on the fringes some key, competitive minutes.

The loan deals are open ended, but the initial loan has to be for a year. The Whitecaps, however, can cancel the loan deal at any time. The only real reasons that the ‘Caps would be looking to do this though would be for space (in that they want to add another player) or if they are planning on moving the player on.

CSA stipulations require the ‘Caps to have at least a 50% Canadian content on their roster, with six of the 11 starters mandated to be Canadian. As we’ve stated previously, we have no real issues with the former, as the vast bulk of the squad will have come through the Whitecaps Residency system anyway, but enforcing a manager to play a player because of nationality over being the best player available to him is somewhat ridiculous.

It should also be noted that the ‘Caps can feature CIS collegiate players in their WFC2 squad but not any of the NCAA ‘Caps at college, unless they choose to leave school.

So with all this in mind, this is how we see the WFC2 taking shape as it stands right now.

GOALKEEPERS:

Marco Carducci (MLS roster – Canadian)
Spencer Richey (MLS SuperDraft)

The Caps may decide to just run with two official goalkeepers. If they want Paolo Tornaghi to get some competitive minutes, which they should, then they may regularly move him down from the first team. If they need to add a third goalie, then you have U18 keeper William Diaz, who was part of the Whitecaps PDL team last season and impressed towards the end of the campaign.

I expect Richey (who does have a Canadian granny so we could perhaps get away with claiming him as part of the Canadian contingent!) to get some starts. Carducci will still be seeing time with the Residency, as the U18s look to lift their first USSDA national title. He’s a key player for them and with two games most weekends for the U18s, they need him there. He could of course play for the Residency on the Saturday and then the USL team on the Sunday, but getting playing time at the all the levels will be key for him this year.

DEFENDERS:

Sam Adekugbe (MLS roster – Canadian)
Christian Dean (MLS roster)
Jackson Farmer (Residency graduate – Canadian)
Jordan Haynes (Residency – Canadian)
Tim Parker (MLS SuperDraft)
Ethen Sampson (MLS roster)
Chris Serban (Residency graduate – Canadian)

This is an area that will still need to be padded out with more depth. Two other possibilities are the two recent lower SuperDraft picks Craig Nitti and Canadian Nikola Paunic. Both of those guys may have to impress during preseason camp though to be kept around.

Jordan Haynes, who can also play a midfield role, is still on the Caps U18 squad and may split his time between the two, featuring more in the summer months when the Residency’s season is over.

Chris Serban is in his first year at UBC. Whether he will look to leave or juggle both is unclear, but he is a talented full back that can play on both the right and the left and is away with the Canadian U20 team right now. Their coach Rob Gale confirmed he will be playing USL with the Caps.

Another possible name to add into the mix is Jordian Farahani. The Regina native shone for the PDL side last season, and has played previously with Ottawa Fury and Thunder Bay Chill. He was named to the USL PDL All-Western Conference team and the ‘Caps may reward the University of Saskatchewan captain with a further look, although he has been linked with Icelandic Second Division side Hotther and at 24, his age may count against him heading back to Vancouver.

MIDFIELDERS

Marco Bustos (MLS roster – Canadian)
Kianz Froese (MLS roster – Canadian)
Adam Mena (former MLS Supplemental Draft pick)
Brett Levis (PDL roster – Canadian)
Mitch Piraux (Residency graduate – Canadian)

This is another area that the Caps may look to make a couple more additions in before the season gets underway, although they can also count Andre Lewis in there, but I have him in with the forwards for now.

Both Bustos and Froese will see some minutes in MLS action this season, along with continuing in the U18s, of which Bustos is the captain. The bulk of their minutes will surely come in USL PRO though. Bustos will take the number 10 role, although Nicolas Mezquida is likely to head down from the MLS squad to USL PRO for some games and to stay match fit in that position.

We may even see Russell Teibert head down to USL PRO for a number of games. Have to hit that Canadian quota after all.

Robinson has been impressed by Brett Levis and told me he wants to see him at the next level, so the fourth year University of Saskatchewan player will be heading back. Like Serban, we’re not sure about the schooling aspect of it all just yet.

Of all the players the Whitecaps sent down to Charleston last season, the surprise standout was Adam Mena. Robinson rates him and will give him a chance to show what he can offer.

Residency graduate Ben McKendry could be tempted out of his last year at college to join the new side. The defensive midfielder had a standout season with New Mexico Lobos, picking up a slew of honours and plaudits in the process. Robinson rates him highly and has said a contract is here for him whenever he decides he wants to take it.

FORWARDS

Kay Banjo (MLS SuperDraft)
Jovan Blagojevic (MLS SuperDraft – Canadian)
Caleb Clarke (MLS roster – Canadian)
Niall Cousens (PDL roster – Canadian)
Mamadou Diouf (previous MLS SuperDraft)
Andre Lewis (previous MLS SuperDraft – could be classed more as MF)
Dario Zanatta (Residency – Canadian)

The forward department is the fullest of the areas on the pitch as it stands, with a lot of competition for places. Add in getting Kekuta Manneh and Erik Hurtado minutes if they haven’t featured in the first team, and then it’s even more so.

Robinson will want to see what Kay Banjo and Jovan Blagojevic can offer, along with Caleb Clarke.

Some big question marks around last season’s SuperDraft picks Diouf and Lewis. The latter is signed and on the MLS roster (and can also play in midfield or as a forward) as it stands, but Diouf isn’t. Both need a good training camp if they are even to get a shot in USL. Blagojevic and Clarke in particular will be keen to show that they are the guy to go with instead and have the advantage of being local lads. If any players are likely to be out of place due to the Canadian aspect of the roster rules, then it’s likely to be Diouf and Lewis.

And talking of BC boys, another name that could be in the mix is Cody Cook. The Mount Royal Cougars striker led the scoring charts in PDL last season with the Caps and was named to the All-Western Conference team. Expect PDL team-mate Niall Cousens to be involved as Robinson is a fan of the big forward.

The surprise name you might think on the list is Dario Zanatta. He’s going to continue to be with the U18s primarily but Robinson rates him and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him thrown in as a sub in the odd game as an initial test to see how he fares at the higher level.

There will be some other faces vying for places over preseason camp, so the pressure is on all of the guys above to show that they belong and the Caps may still give another look at some of their other PDL and Residency guys from the past.

Going from what I have above, my preferred starting line-up would be:

Tornaghi or Richey or Carducci

Sampson – Parker – Dean – Adekugbe

Piraux

Froese – Mena

Bustos

Banjo – Clarke

That’s borderline on the six Canadian starters, and may mean we see Teibert more in USL than MLS through necessity, thus showing the ridiculousness of that aspect of it from a putting the best team on the pitch point of view and developing the actual best players for the ‘Caps MLS team going forward.

For me, that latter point holds far greater priority for the USL PRO team than developing players for the Canadian national team or someone like Ottawa Fury down the line. I also want to see the team challenging and winning, as I’m sure the Whitecaps, and those buying season tickets, do as well.

We’ll just have to see how this plays out and any loopholes around the Canadian quota that can be found as we go along. You are allowed five subs in the USL PRO as an aside.

WFC2 will be in the new 12 team USL PRO Western Conference, alongside four other MLS sides (LA, Portland, RSL and Seattle). The other seven teams will be – Arizona United, Austin Aztex, Colorado Springs Switchbacks, OKC Energy, Orange County Blues, Sacramento Republic and Tulsa Roughnecks.

The 28 game season will see each Conference side play each other home and away, with six other games coming from regional rivalries and cross-conference match ups. My initial guess is that four of those matches will be against Portland, Seattle, Toronto and Montreal, with possibly home and away ties against the Canadian sides also in the mix. We’ll find out soon, as USL hope to be able to bring out the 2015 schedule next week.

The top six teams from each Conference will advance to the playoffs, with the eventual Western and Eastern champions meeting for the USL PRO title.

We’re really looking forward to the new season getting underway, and we’ll be bringing you what will very likely be the most comprehensive coverage of WFC2 here on AFTN over the year.

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