Goal difference. It’s the fine line between success and failure, as Vancouver Whitecaps U18s and U16s know only too well at the end of the USSDA Academy Playoffs in Dallas this week.
When the Whitecaps Residency joined the USSDA this season, development was the key, but the dream goal was also for both the U18 and U16 sides to make ‘Finals Week’ in Houston in July.
Martin Rennie wants to instil a winning mentality at the Caps, no matter what level the team is playing at, and assistant coach Paul Ritchie flew down to Dallas to be with Craig Dalrymple and the Residency guys for added leadership.
Both sides gave excellent accounts of themselves and it all came down to goal difference in the end, with the U18s winning their group on it and the U16s finishing unbeaten but in second place in their group by two goals.
It was a tough week and both teams were made to dig deep and fight hard, amid temperatures in the 40’s for most of the time.
Seriously, what kind of benefit do youth players get from playing three games in four days in such intense heat and humidity? At least the organisers had the sense to have water breaks in each of half of all the games.
The Caps U18s kicked off their playoff week in heartbreaking style on Monday, losing 3-2 to a 94th minute stoppage time winner to Western Conference rivals Pateadores.
Goals from Ben McKendry and Ben Fisk had put the young Caps 2-1 up, but they wilted in the last 15 minutes and gave up two late goals.
They may have been down but they were certainly not out and their team unity and strength came to the fore 24 hours later when they hit four past Florida side Weston FC.
Weston had won their first match of the group, but goals from Ben McKendry, Yassin Essa, Jason van Blerk and an own goal saw the Caps run out easy 4-0 winners.
Going in to their last match against Texans SC Houston on Thursday, the Caps needed to get the job done in their own game and hope for help in the other group match.
A third goal in three games from Ben McKendry and a second half strike from Said Jalali saw the Caps win 2-0 over a Texan team that had beaten them in December.
And the Caps never give up attitude paid off when Weston shocked the defending champions Pateadores 4-0 in the other game, to send Vancouver through to finals week on goal difference.
With eight goals from two games, including a goal in each match from Ben McKendry, and two clean sheets from Callum Irving, it was a good week’s work for the U18s and showed just what a strong bunch this group is.
Now they have one last hurrah in Houston before they all go their separate ways. It’ll be sad to see them break up but let’s hope that they can go out with a real bang.
From the joy of goal difference, to the heartbreak, as the U16s fell just short of joining their U18 team-mates in Houston by two goals.
The U16s couldn’t have asked for a better start, beating FC Greater Boston 2-1 on Tuesday, thanks to a first half brace from Brody Huitema.
The next day it was a table topping battle between two teams that had won their first group match. The Caps and Charlotte Soccer Academy played out a 0-0 draw, setting up a final day Friday shootout.
The assumption was that it was all going to come down to goal difference, as the Caps squared off against South Carolina United Battery this morning, and so it proved.
Vancouver got the job done with a 3-2 victory, thanks to an early goal from Brody Huitema and a brace of penalties from Sebastian Cabrera.
The Caps were 3-1 up and knew that Charlotte beating Greater Boston 2-0 meant that they had to go for another goal.
Their attacking left them short at the back and they conceded a second and that was that.
They can hold their heads up high though, knowing that they remained unbeaten and really went for it in the last game.
Setbacks and disappointments are as much of a learning point for these young players as winning and they’ll now be keen to fight back and do even better next season.
For the U18s more heat now awaits as they move to the ‘final eight’ in Houston in July.
‘Finals Week’ will take place from July 16th to 23rd, with the U18 Championship being held on July 22nd at Houston Dynamo’s BBVA Compass Stadium.
The Caps U18s have been drawn in Group 1 alongside North Carolina Fusion, Colorado Rapids and Northwest Division rivals De Anza Force, who they have played and beaten twice already this season.
Four of the eight U18 teams in finals week are from MLS clubs.
Good luck to the guys. Bring the Cup back to Vancouver.