Whitecaps Residency Head Coach Craig Dalrymple has a long history with Vancouver.
With over 25 years experience in the game, the Englishman spent three seasons as a Vancouver 86ers player in the 90’s, before having success as technical director with Surrey United and as an associate coach up at SFU.
After a short spell on the academy coaching staff of Portsmouth in England, Craig returned to Vancouver to take charge of the Caps’ PDL side for the 2010 season, before being appointed full-time assistant technical director and Head Coach of the Whitecaps Residency side in November of that year.
AFTN had a chance to chat with Craig before the Residency sides flew out to Dallas for their playoffs week, to talk about the importance of the USSDA, how the Residency program fits in with the MLS Whitecaps and the development road that lies ahead for the Caps’ top young talent.
When the Whitecaps decided to join the United States Soccer Development Association (USSDA), it not only took the Club to the next competitive level at those age groups, it also provided the young players with the taste of what being a professional footballer is all about.
One of the aims of this move, and the general expansion of the Residency program, was to allow the Caps to bring in the best local players and then give them an outlet to show what they can do and what they can offer the Club.
Having this competitive platform was “the epicentre” of the program, then with both the U18s and the U16s winning their respective divisions, Craig feels that this was just “the icing on the cake”.
It’s a gruelling ten month campaign, often with two games in the space of a weekend and a lot of team bonding required. Then there’s the travel.
The team has had to travel a lot and for many players, this will be something completely new to them. With everything that goes along with being in such foreign environments, this can only prepare these players well for a pro career:
“Absolutely, especially in North America,” Dalrymple told AFTN. “We flew into California six times I think this year, Florida once and now Dallas, and that’s a significant amount of travel for players.
“Don’t forget these players are in school and have a full course load. The majority of them are living away from home, so they have other stresses to deal with. I think it’s a perfect apprenticeship for senior level.”
For the current crop of Residency players to see the likes of Bryce Alderson and Caleb Clarke signing MLS contracts, it must give them a little bit of added impetus to put the hard work in:
“Yeah, we need examples,” Dalrymple admitted. “We need examples of youth players popping into the senior program, not just signing for them but playing games and being integral to the team and their performances.
“Bryce and Caleb, and Russell the year before were examples. Now they have to continue their development and pop into the starting eleven or the squad of eighteen, and they will. They’re close now but I would hope within this season they will make that next step as well.”
Therein lies one of the key issues. It’s great to see our Residency products develop through the U18 and PDL levels and then break into the MLS squad.
If they then don’t get the chance of first team action, like Philippe Davies, not only does it hamper their development, it is also disheartening to the player and to other young players hoping to get a chance in Major League Soccer with the Caps.
With the likes of U16 goalscoring sensation Brody Huitema, already garnering interest, and the lack of opportunities that will realistically present themselves with the Caps first team, is it going to be difficult to keep the new batch of Canadian talent not just in Vancouver and MLS, but in North America altogether? Will the lure of regular first team football overseas prove too much?
“The Club has acknowledged that that’s a realistic option for players to go overseas,” Dalrymple told us. “What we’ve done now as a Club is that we’ve changed our approach to developing individualised programs and plans and pathways for players, and not treating them as a collective group.
“For example, someone like Brody, what’s his career path? What does he want to do as a player and as a person? And how can we navigate that and help him get to where he wants to go to.
“At the end of the day, we need a return on investment in Brody, so we need to materialise him into an asset and then either keep him and use him in the first team or sell him on or get him into another environment that will help the Club.”
And there is the second key issue and one which we’ve discussed before on AFTN.
For the top Residency prospects, and even the MLS fringe players, there is simply not enough competitive games to help with their development. And for the Residency guys in particular, the jump from U18 level to PDL games can be quite a big gap at times.
Does there need to be some kind of organised league in North America between U18 and U23 level, or does the USL’s Professional Development League (PDL) need to be expanded?
“Yeah, I think the MLS Reserve League is a quasi help,” Dalrymple feels. “We’ve had some Residency players pop into that environment, but you look at the likes of Germany that have a fully fledged under 23 league. That’s proven for their country that’s a great developmental tool. I don’t think North America is quite ready for that. The PDL is an ok version of that, but it’s only 16 games in three months and that’s not enough.”
For now though, they just have to make the best of what they’ve got and both the Caps’ U18 and U16 sides have had a dream season in the USSDA. The U18’s are ranked 5th across North American and the U16’s 9th.
For those of us who have watched the U18’s this year and the PDL squad for the last two years, it’s also a sad time as a number of the players are moving on, many of them to universities in both Canada and the US.
This of course means a huge opportunity for many of the U16’s to move up an age level and they will be the new U18 side for the next two years.
How does Craig see this panning out. Are they ready for the next level?
“Yeah, natural progression,” Dalrymple said. “Our 95’s, our oldest U16’s this year, will step in and this year we’ve already had 95’s already training with our U18 pool, so they’ve already had that exposure so it will be a natural fit for them.”
We look forward to seeing it and covering their games again next season. This will also mean a lot of the U14 and U15 guys will have the chance to step up and play at U16 level.
There is a lot of excitement about the younger group and what they can go on and achieve in the game.
The Caps certainly seem to have a plan on developing these guys to take them to next level and it will be great to follow them on their journey.
For now, we wish Craig and the boys all the best down in Dallas.