California Dreaming: Goodbye WFC2, hello new beginnings – the ins and outs of the Whitecaps/Fresno partnership

California Dreaming: Goodbye WFC2, hello new beginnings – the ins and outs of the Whitecaps/Fresno partnership

WFC2 played their last ever match on Friday. Only 618 supporters were at Thunderbird Stadium to see it on Fan Appreciation Night, as the young ‘Caps surrendered a two goal lead and lost out to a late Orange County winner.

All a somewhat appropriate setting and scenario for the sad demise of a club that could have been so many things, but struggled to capture the public’s imagination and support over its three year history, and had mixed performances on the pitch.

The last rites of the Whitecaps’ USL side haven’t officially been read. That will come in a month or so, once the current USL season has concluded. But as we’ve talked about in the podcast for several weeks now, they’re dead, there is no doubt whatever about that. At least in their current incarnation.

All of the players were advised last week that Friday night would be the last time WFC2 would kick a ball in anger. Individual meetings were held with players on Thursday, the day before the final match.

The Whitecaps are limited in what they can say about the situation right now, but the club did issue AFTN the following statement:

“Player development and the pyramid of play are at the core of our club and we are committed to developing our top young prospects in an environment that will challenge and push them to the level necessary to attain first team opportunities. We will have an announcement on our plans for the 2018 USL season in the coming weeks.”

There’s a lot we want to say about the whole life of WFC2, from the New Westminster debacle to the final death throes, but we’ll save that till the official announcement.

There’s been some positives to come out of the venture, but on the whole it’s hard not to look at it as a huge failure. When you look at the fanfare, and money spent, creating a new training facility to house all the Whitecaps teams, and the pathway to the first team that was all meant to create, there’s a lot of questions to be asked.

Of the handful of players that made the move up to the first team, only Alphonso Davies has made any real impact, and he is something of a unique case anyway. Brett Levis and Spencer Richey may still do that, but their first team minutes have been minimal so far. I would expect a couple of the current squad to make the jump too for next season.

That’s all for later. For now, we want to look to the future. As out of the ashes of WFC2 there are new development opportunities awaiting in California.

The Whitecaps will be affiliating with new USL expansion side Fresno FC for the 2018 season.

This will no doubt bring back the horrors of the failed two year affiliation with Charleston Battery back in 2013 and 2014, but this partnership will be a whole different animal.

Back then, the Whitecaps were sending players to a well established club, with a long time manager in charge, and a set playing style. With Fresno, you have a clean slate.

Former Canadian national team and San Jose Earthquakes head coach Frank Yallop is the General Manager of the new Fresno expansion team. Yallop’s Canadian connections have helped get this deal done with the Whitecaps.

Yallop and the Whitecaps will work together to appoint a head coach. He’ll be his own man, but he’ll also work closely with Carl Robinson. The Whitecaps will appoint a liaison that will regularly travel down to California to monitor the players’ progress. We wouldn’t be surprised to see someone like Rich Fagan take on that role, along with coaching the U19s.

But make no mistake. This Fresno team is here to win. It’s winning first and development second. As it should be for a Division 2 team. USL is not a developmental league, and that’s where WFC2 were caught between a rock and a hard place.

This is not WFC2 2.0. The Whitecaps have not sold their team to owners in Fresno and made a profit on their expansion fee. They have shut up shop in BC and partnered with a new team that wants to win a USL championship.

A substantial number of the current WFC2 players will be offered new contracts with Fresno. The rest will become free agents. Whether everyone will accept a new deal remains to be seen. Some are already making enquiries with local colleges, having burned their NCAA eligibility by signing a pro deal. Some will no doubt explore other options.

The plan is for there to be at least a dozen Whitecap players on the Fresno roster. Expect several players signed to MLS deals to land there to get valuable minutes and experience, and no less than half a dozen Canadians. An important aspect to this last point is that the USL treat Canadians as full domestics, unlike MLS, so there are no barriers to how many Canadian players the ‘Caps can place there.

For those non MLS players that sign with Fresno, they will be on Whitecaps USL contracts, allowing the players to be called up for Canadian Championship games and the Champions League (whenever we qualify again).

It should also be noted that the ‘Caps can only have rights on three of their USL players, whether they’re playing for a team in Vancouver or anywhere else. This was the case with WFC2. The rest have the freedom to sign with anyone unless the ‘Caps put them on their discovery list, which with the limited number of players able to be put on that isn’t going to be wasted on development team players.

As to which off the current WFC2 players have been offered new deals and which ones have been told they can leave, we won’t go into that just now. It’s all still very raw and emotional with fast moving parts for these players, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to draw up some different groups of names and we’ll cover that in some more detail next week.

So that’s where the land lies right now. There’s certainly a lot of talking points to come out of disbanding WFC2 and partnering with Fresno. There’s some obvious downsides to the deal, but we do also see some positives.

The biggest detraction that will be thrown the Whitecaps way is what does this say about their commitment to development of young players, especially Canadian ones?

It is very disappointing that the whole (literal) corridor to the first team that we were told when the new training centre opened was all for nothing. What message this sends to players currently in the Residency program and the Whitecaps many academies around Canada also has to be questioned.

Is there a clear pathway any more? WFC2 was seen as the missing link. Has it been broken again? We’ll not know for sure until we see the deal fully in action. You have to hope not, but will players in say Eastern Canada be so keen to be part of a program that if they move up through the ranks would see them playing in a different country, many miles from home?

It should be noted though that in the UK, players that are signed to the big Premiership teams are often loaned out many miles away to get experiences and playing time. Albeit in the same country and much closer to hand.

Although there are no restrictions to Canadian players on the Fresno team, there will also not be any guarantee of minutes for them. Gone will be the “you have to start six Canadians” rule mandated by the CSA. I was never a fan of this to begin with. Players should be played because they deserve it, not because of their passport and in my opinion that held WFC2 back in the environment they were playing in.

What this means for the ‘Caps Canadians is that they now have to be just that – good enough. Gone will be their soft surroundings, home comforts and the knowledge that if they didn’t start this week, they would the next. They now have to fight for their place. They have to earn it. They have to be the best they can be and that can only be a good thing for both the Whitecaps and the players.

You didn’t look at WFC2 this season and feel that these were players that were MLS ready. They need to be challenged more and Fresno will do just that. The cream will still rise to the top and we’ll get some serious answers about some others, which USL has already shown me with a number of players these past couple of seasons.

A big drawback of moving the players thousands of miles away is that they aren’t going to be close for Carl Robinson, Gordon Forrest, and the coaching staff to be able to regularly monitor first hand, but with technology, men on the ground, and a ‘Caps liaison person, that’s not the end of the world.

Another point that will be brought up will be how do the fringe MLS players get minutes and experience. Well looking at the way the team functioned this year, that’s a moot point. Robbo seemed pretty happy to use a squad of around 22 in MLS, not 30. He didn’t send players he was planning on using to WFC2 this year. This deal will see that continue.

The other big question that will be thrown the Whitecaps way will be what was the point in starting WFC2 to begin with? Why go to the bother and expense of setting up this team to close it down just three years later when you could just have continued a partnership with a team in the States?

Hard to argue with this but you have to believe the feeling was that things would go far better than they did both on and off the pitch. There were a lot of bad decisions made in placing the team to play where they did. That’s something we’ll go into when the official announcement is made.

It should also be noted that if the ‘Caps didn’t take this decision themselves, then the USL may have taken it for them.

With their Division 2 status, USL teams have to play in stadiums with a minimum seating capacity of 5,000. Thunderbird Stadium and McLeod Athletic Park in Langley do not meet that criteria. No stadium in the lower mainland apart from BC Place does without adding in extra seating, bleachers, etc.

Swangard could be adapted but that was never going to be an option for the Whitecaps due to previous history there. Also you’re not going to fill it, so what’s the point? Why pay for a wasted expense? The general public here do not want to watch low level, development soccer in high numbers. People need to get real about that.

Fresno are hoping to be playing in front of crowds around the nine, ten thousand range. It’s going to be a proper football environment for our players and that can only help them too in their development.

We’re sad to see WFC2 go. Regular readers and listeners will know we’ve been an enthusiastic champion of the side from the start, often the only media in attendance at matches, writing about the team and the players, and with myself an occasional colour commentator this season. Our photographer, Tom Ewasiuk, has been tremendous in capturing the history of the team these past three years. It’s a great archive of the club and for the players.

These pieces were sadly regularly amongst the lowest read on the site. Seriously outperformed by our articles on TSS Rovers and the VMSL.

WFC2 could, and should, have been more than it was. Our appetite for it was not matched by many. Ultimately things have come down to business decisions. Money. Should that be the case? Well that’s for another day as well.

Will the Fresno partnership be a success or will we be looking for another solution two years down the road? I hope for the former, but fear the latter. Only time will tell.

I personally want to see the Whitecaps put a team in the Canadian Premier League or at the very least have an official partnership with the Fraser Valley group or someone else in the lower mainland. I know some don’t want the MLS team to have any part of the new CPL, but for me it makes the most sense. I just want to be able to go and watch and cover the team and the players.

Who knows what the football landscape will look like in five year’s time. No-one three years ago would have thought we’d be where we currently are with Whitecaps 2.

But for now, goodbye WFC2, hello new opportunities. Fresno awaits.

Authored by: Michael McColl

There are 6 comments for this article
  1. PETER ROSE at 08:22

    I personally want to see the Whitecaps put a team in the Canadian Premier League

  2. Greg Petrie at 23:02

    “The general public here do not want to watch low level, development soccer in high numbers. People need to get real about that.”

    Please keep this in mind when discussing the Canadian Premier League.

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  4. Christopher Brown at 17:27

    I think the decision was forced upon WCFC 2. USL is not a development league and unlike MLS, ownership does not share the player contracts and transfer fees with the league. As a sanctioned D2 league, there are certain standards required. California has a strong soccer pyramid and WFC loaned players will be competing daily for their next start. I agree in such an environment players develop faster. Those who don’t will soon be back home. I think TFC 2 will also drop out of USL and find a partner as did the Impact in favour of an agreement with Ottawa Fury. The CPL will likely be a D3 pro league if it gets going in 2018.

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  6. Chris Kucyk at 03:08

    CPL IS CPL not a MLS development league. If Canadian players want to play, then sign with a CPL team. That is just my view and many others. I will not support a team that is not our own.

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