Vancouver Whitecaps U19s got their USSDA playoff quest off to a perfect start in San Diego on Monday afternoon, seeing off their fellow MLS academy from New England Revolution 5-1 thanks to a Theo Bair hat-trick and goal from Nicholas Fussell and Jefferson Alade.
The focus now turns to the Whitecaps U17s who will be hoping to emulate their older teammates when they get their playoff campaign underway on Tuesday (you can read our U19s playoff preview and season review HERE.
It’s been another strong season for head coach Adam Day’s group, and another one with much turnover from the year before as some players moved up to the U19s and some moved on from the Residency program altogether.
That’s meant another mixed age group squad with half of them 2001s and half 2002s, with some call ups from the Division winning U15s also coming in and making an impact at times.
The young ‘Caps finished their season with a record of 22 wins, two draws, and nine defeats from their 33 matches. That was good enough for second place in the Northwest Division of the USSDA West Conference on 68 points, 16 behind runaway champs Seattle Sounders, who are seeded second overall for this year’s playoffs.
The Whitecaps are 10th seeds, second in their group, and will be looking to build on a fantastic season that saw them excel both offensively and defensively, giving up just 34 goals all season, the second best record in the Western Conference along with the Sounders.
In attack, the ‘Caps were rampant at times and racked up 100 goals for the first time in the program’s history. You might look at the standings see them adrift of Seattle, but this was a very dominant season for Vancouver’s young guns.
“Absolutely and that is nothing to turn your nose up at,” Day told AFTN. “We have had a lot of influential 2002 players this year so we have gotten younger than in previous years. Look on paper we had a very poor end to the season but we should have won three of our last four defeats.
“I also felt we probably deserved a .500 split in our Seattle games so the league table should have looked a lot closer than it was, but we have pushed players on earlier this season and ultimately that is our end target.”
Leading the way in the scoring charts for the ‘Caps was 2002 striker Damiano Pecile, who hit 18 goals in his 32 appearances. Keisean Brooks added 11 goals, with Matteo de Brienne and Patrick Ruszczyk (pictured above) both hitting 10.
They had a few lopsided wins, the biggest of which being an 8-0 win over Strikers FC in February. They hit eight goals on two occasions, seven once, six twice, and five on five occasions.
At the back, the ‘Caps kept 14 clean sheets from their 33 matches, a pretty impressive tally and that will ultimately be the key if they are to advance from a very winnable group this week in San Diego.
First up for the ‘Caps will be the wildcard qualifiers Barca Academy on Tuesday. Barca play out of Casa Grande in Arizona and finished fourth in the Southwest Division of the West Conference. The finished their season with a record of 19 wins, three draws, and 10 defeats from their 32 matches, scoring 79 goals and giving up 50.
Forward Matthew Hoppe appears to be their key dangerman, scoring 24 goals in 30 appearances, with fellow striker Jake LaCava adding 13 of his own.
One of those wins came in the ‘Caps penultimate game of the season when Barca came north to UBC and came away with a narrow 1-0 win on a second half penalty.
That loss irked Day and he, and the team, will be keen to make amends and get quick revenge, when the playoffs kick off.
Next up are fellow MLS academy side Orlando City SC on Thursday. Another wildcard team, they were 5th in the Southeast Division of the East Conference this season, finishing with a record of 18 wins, five draws, and 11 defeats from their 34 matches. They hit 72 goals along the way, giving up 47.
With all respect to those two sides, and as we sadly know the playoffs can throw up all manners of shocks, the Whitecaps should have what it takes to get past both of those teams, leaving what on paper looks to be the group decider when they take on the 8th ranked Philadelphia Union on Saturday.
Philadelphia finished second in the Atlantic Division of the East Conference, recording 17 wins, seven draws, and just four defeats from their 28 matches. They scored 60 goals along the way, giving up just 28, with the goals spread around amongst the squad.
Were it not for only taking two wins from the last seven matches, the ‘Caps would have been amongst the top seeds for the playoffs, so they’ll be hoping they can recover their form in time for when it matters most. If they do that, then they have every chance of advancing from the group again, but Day knows it will be a tough week ahead of his young squad.
“I think it’s a well balanced group,” Day told us. “I don’t think any team will have any real fears going into the group games. Obviously Philadelphia start as favourites but when a team comes into the group scoring 100 goals , there will be some real caution from our opponents.
“I expect Philadelphia to be their usual resolute self, Orlando, pacey in the front areas, dangerous on the break, and Barca play exactly the same way as their Spanish affiliates but they are not Barcelona so they will keep the ball well but we know in our moments we can cause them real trouble.”
The U17s (as they’ve been rebranded from this season) will be hoping to go at least one stage better than the U16s did last season. The ‘Caps went all the way to Final Four last year, and they know they had a great shot at winning the club’s first USSDA Championship, just falling short in the end.
This year they’ll have to do it via a slightly tougher route if they want to get back to that stage, with the quarter-finals, which had previously been held at the four highest ranked remaining teams, now being played in San Diego right after the group matches have concluded.
So is Day a fan of that new format?
“Hopefully I can let you know in about 10 days or so!,” he joked. “I like the idea of travelling less but I think the main concern will be the quality of those quarter-finals . Four games in 10 days will certainly affect the quality of the games in that quarter-final stage.”
That’s to discuss at a later date. For now, all the focus is on emulating the U19s and getting off to a perfect start against Barca on Tuesday. Good luck to all the guys. Go get it done!