With the first pick of the fourth round of the 2014 SuperDraft, Vancouver Whitecaps selected Canadian striker Mackenzie Pridham from Cal Poly Mustangs.
Last round picks in the draft don’t have a reputation for making the grade in MLS and sticking around, but in Mackenzie Pridham, the Whitecaps may have found an exception to the rule and one of those steal selections desired by all clubs.
Pridham is a natural goalscorer. Leaving Cal Poly as their all-time leading scorer with 27 goals and a slew of accolades, the striker has shown he knows how to find the back of the net at every level he has played at so far. Now comes the ultimate test as he tries to make the grade in the professional ranks.
Born in Toronto, Pridham’s family moved to California when Mackenzie was at an early age.
“My family made the move to California when I was about three or four. We weren’t planning on staying there for very long but we ended up not leaving. All of our relatives, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, they still live in Canada, back in Toronto, so we go back there at least once a year and visit all of them and spend time. It’s always good to get back there.”
Pridham is a US permanent resident but Canada has always held a place close to his heart and he has represented his country at U17 level and featured in a U20 training camp. So how did it feel to be drafted by a Canadian team?
“I couldn’t have been happier. I was very stoked. Haven’t been able to spend too much time in Vancouver but I have a couple of family friends out here and some cousins. I was really excited to come to a new place and be back in Canada and hopefully get a chance to play for a Canadian club.”
He’ll get his chance to show what he can offer, stake a claim for a roster spot and impress the Caps coaching team over the next five weeks of training camp.
Pridham arrived in Vancouver on Tuesday but hasn’t been able to see any pitch time just yet as he is still carrying an undisclosed injury he picked up in the MLS combine.
“I’m just rehabbing right now, trying to get as much treatment as I can and get my body healthy so I can get out on the field again soon.”
Pridham will head off to Arizona with the rest of the Whitecaps in camp on Monday afternoon.
“I’ve talked to some of the guys in the locker room and stuff and they’re all nice guys so far and things have been going well. My number one focus is just to get healthy and get ready to get on to the pitch and hopefully the rest will take care of itself.”
Pridham has been a prolific goalscorer at both high school and college level and really shone during his last two years at Cal Poly. The MLS scouting report described Pridham as a “handful”, “powerful” and “a born goalscorer”, but for those that haven’t seen him play, how would Mackenzie describe himself as a player and his style of play?
“I would say I’m a hard working defender off the ball when I’m not on offence. Pressuring, very intelligent and tactical with the ball. Off the ball my movements, a lot of it’s inbetween the width of the 18 yard box. I like to come in false to combine with my midfielders and wingers and play simple, hold the ball up.
“I’d say my best attributes are in the box. I’m a box player and I love to score goals. I’m good with both of my feet and just try to get the ball into the box to be able to do my thing and get some shots on goal.”
Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson echoes those thoughts and has liked what he has seen of the 23 year old to date.
“Mackenzie is one of the hardest working players I’ve seen. He’s a good player, that’s why I wanted to bring him in. His goalscoring record for these last two years has been fantastic. I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to pick him up.”
Pridham’s natural goalscoring prowess, and 11 goals in his Junior year, caught the attention of professional clubs and he trained with Toronto for six months last summer and also had the chance to go and train with Sporting Kansas City.
“I could have gone out to Kansas City but it wasn’t finalised and I had already gotten the opportunity to go up and train with TFC for the summer, so I took advantage of that.”
How did it go in Toronto?
“At the beginning I was with the team below the reserves and I proved myself and worked hard and ended up getting some good training in with the first team. It was a great environment and a great training aspect for going in to my Senior season.
“My focus was to try and not let any hype or talk get to me and just try and focus on my game and what I have to do and just be the best leader and captain for my teammates at that time.”
Pridham entered the draft after another outstanding season with the Mustangs. His 14 goals included five game winners and saw him win back to back Big West Offensive Player of the Year awards.
To then see him going 58th overall in the draft was somewhat of a surprise, with some early mock drafts having him going as high as 12th in the first round.
With his six week stint in Toronto having gone well just months before and the feedback Pridham received being very positive from the coaches, had TFC shown any signs that they were looking at selecting him in the draft?
“You know, it’s not like I had heard from the coaches on a regular basis or anything like that. I think they were aware of me and had seen my highlight video. I briefly talked with them at the combine but other than that, that was about it.”
So was there an indication before the draft that Vancouver were interested in bringing Pridham back to Canada?
“I had a long talk before the combine with Jake DeClute from here at the Whitecaps and we had a good conversation and it was good to hear from him.”
When a player is highly rated and then finds himself not being picked in the early rounds of the draft, what is going through his mind?
“I think taking this injury on at the combine definitely hurt the mental aspect and my morale a little bit, but at this time it’s where you need to be that much better and that much more focused.
“I had my 24 hours to kind of mope about it and be down but after that I was like I need to keep a positive attitude and stay even more focused now and do everything I can to get back.”
Carl Robinson has talked a lot this offseason about the character he wants to see from his players, especially off the pitch. Pridham’s attitude and how he handled the disappointment of dropping down the draft will fit into Robinson’s mould.
“I kind of thought it would have hurt my stock as a player, but when it came down to it, it didn’t matter if I went one or went last, I was still going to get the same opportunity and I couldn’t be more happier than to be with the Whitecaps here in Vancouver at this club.
“Everything happens for a reason and everything worked out pretty well and I was happy about it.”
A great attitude to have and more of Pridham’s character also shines through when you look at his volunteer work he did away from the football pitch down at Cal Poly including youth clinics, working in an elderly care clinic, at a shelter and volunteering with the Special Olympics.
California Polytechnic State University is based out of the beautiful city of San Luis Obispo on the southern Californian coast. It’s a fantastic place to visit, so what was it like going to school there?
“I had an amazing experience. It was a great college town, I got a good education, made an awesome group of friends, both in athletic and non athletics, and some of those friends I think will be friends for the rest of my life.
“My overall experience there was amazing. The soccer was great. I think we were one of the few programs in the country to get a solid fanbase at a lot of our games and we had a good coaching staff, good teammates.
“I wish we could have gone a little bit further my senior year, but all in all the last two years we, I’d say, turned the program around and started to put in a good step forward in the right direction and I’m just glad to have been able to be a part of that and end my last two seasons well.”
Pridham will be bringing some experience into the Caps training camp that most of the other draft picks and rookies will not have the advantage of – playing in front of some very large and very fervent crowds.
As we discussed in our recent “Groundhopping” feature, the red hot Cal Poly-Santa Barbara rivalry is one of the fiercest in college football. It is also the highest attended, with regular 12 and 13,000 sell out crowds.
Great preparation for moving into the senior game but what was it like to play in that derby?
“That’s what I lived for down there. They were amazing. There’s so much build up of it. All your friends, all your school. People had to buy tickets in advance to get to the games cos they would get sold out.
“Our stadium max capacity is 12 or 13,000 but there’s at least a few more thousand in there jammed in because the students are just standing shoulder to shoulder the whole 90 minutes, just cheering and doing chants.
“It’s unbelievable and hard to explain. When you’re on the field you can’t even hear the game, you can’t talk to your teammates. The week before we practice without any communication, which is a little weird, because you have to get used to being able to not communicate with your teammates.
“The fan aspect and the student support we have is unbelievable at those games. They’re special and I don’t think there’s any other environment at the college level that’s like that.”
Perhaps even better than just playing in one of those games is to score the winning goal in the derby. Pridham did just that in 2012 and on national television.
Was that the best or the most meaningful goal of his fledgling football career so far?
“It was probably the most meaningful. I wouldn’t say it was the nicest goal I’ve scored but we came back with, I think, a minute left in the game to tie it and then went into overtime. We hadn’t won down there in 15 years or something like that and I had a whole bunch of friends and our fan group come down to the game and family members were there and being on TV and stuff, it was an honour to be able to get the game winner.
“I couldn’t have been more stoked. It was amazing.”
Like all the hopefuls in the Caps camp right now, Pridham will have a tough job cracking one of the premium spots remaining on the MLS roster, although the Charleston USL Pro affiliation is always something to fall back on.
He does have the advantage that there isn’t exactly a long queue in the camp for an out and out striker.
We’ll leave you with a couple of videos of Mackenzie Pridham in action. The first one is of that 2012 game between Santa Barbara and Cal Poly (Pridham’s goal comes at the six minute mark) and the second video is a highlight reel of his 2012 and 2013 seasons at the Mustangs.
If he can bring this to the Caps and continue his prolific goalscoring at the next level, you know that he stands a great chance of getting a shot.
Hopefully he can shake off his injury in time to see some meaningful game minutes down in Arizona as he could be an interesting player to watch over the coming month.