Starting today it’s “Residency Week” here on AFTN.
And there’s no better time, as the Whitecaps U18’s and U16’s flew out of Vancouver this morning and headed to Dallas for the USSDA playoffs.
We have a lot planned for you, but don’t worry, we’ll still be bringing you loads about the MLS Caps as well.
Coming up this week are exclusive interviews with Residency Head Coach Craig Dalrymple, top U18 goalkeeping prospect Callum Irving and U16 goalscoring phenom Brody Huitema.
We’re also going to begin our in-depth top twenty countdown of the best young Caps talent at the moment, and a couple of surprises we don’t want to spoil just yet, as we aim to bring you unparalleled coverage of the Whitecaps Residency program.
Let’s kick things off tonight with a look at how both Caps sides got to the playoffs and the games and opposition that they will face now that they’re there.
It’s been a tremendous first year in the United States Soccer Development Academy (USSDA) for the Vancouver Whitecaps Residency teams.
As the first Canadian sides to enter the system, they’ve set a high standard for others to follow, and Montreal Impact will make their debut in USSDA next season.
Both the Caps U18’s and the U16’s won their ‘West Conference – Northwest Division’ Championships, and they did so in some style.
The U18’s were strong from start to finish over the course of the ten month season.
They started with a 5-1 win over Real Salt Lake AZ in September and never really looked back. The were unbeaten in their first nine games and ended the season with only one loss in their last eleven matches, scoring 19 goals in their last three.
Those results helped them to first place in the Northwest, four points clear of second place California side De Anza Force and ten points clear of third place Seattle Sounders.
Overall, they played 26 games, winning 18, drawing 3 and losing 5, for a 57 points total and a 2.19 points per games played ratio (PPG).
That latter statistic is important in the USSDA and we’ll explain why later.
The Caps scored an impressive 80 goals and conceded 41 over the course of the ten month season, with their biggest victory coming with a 9-0 drubbing of Seattle Sounders at SFU on June 3rd.
The Whitecaps used 17 players over the course of the season, with Wesley Cain, Ben Fisk and Carlos Patino being the only players to play in all 26 games. Tim Hickson, Ben McKendry and Alex Rowley played in 25 matches and Daniel Stanese had the most actual starts with 24, closely followed by Ben Fisk on 23.
When you consider that the team played back to back games on five weekends in California and Florida, that’s pretty impressive going. I never want to hear a first team player complaining about too many games in a short space of time again!
The goalscoring was phenomenal.
Caleb Clarke scored 24 goals in 23 appearances, and Yassin Essa netted 18 in 24, including two consecutive hat-tricks to round the season off.
The U16’s were also strong from the start, losing only one of their first eight games, and beat Seattle Sounders to the top spot in the eight team Northwest Division by six points.
Overall, they played 26 games, winning 17, drawing 3 and losing 6, for a 2.08 points per games played ratio.
The Caps scored 57 goals and conceded just 22 over the course of the ten month season, with their biggest victories being two 5-0 away triumphs over the Californian Development Academy in September and San Jose Earthquakes in February.
The U16’s used 24 players over the course of the season, with no player being ever-present. Quinton Duncan and Mitch Piraux played in 25 of the games, with Piraux and Jackson Farmer having the most starts with 24.
The goalscoring sensation of the team was undoubtedly Brody Huitema, who scored 20 goals in 22 games and got a lot of attention from scouts. The next highest was Sebastian Cabrera with 8.
Winning their respective Divisional Championships guaranteed both the Caps U18 and U16 sides a spot in their first ever USSDA playoffs.
The first round of the playoffs are being held in Frisco at the FC Dallas Sports Park complex this week, from June 25th to 29th.
32 teams have made the post-season at both age levels and are split into eight teams of four. The top two sides in each of the ten USSDA Divisions automatically qualified, along with 12 wild card spots awarded to the teams with the best PPG ratio.
The eight group winners will then be heading back to Texas from July 16th to 23rd for Finals Week in Houston.
Let’s hope both Whitecaps teams will be there.
On paper, the Caps U18’s have the easier of the two playoff groups and are top seeds in Group 2. The U16’s have a slightly harder task.
Being Divisional winners only guarantees you a spot in the playoffs, it doesn’t guarantee you top seeding when the groups are drawn, as Residency Head Coach Craig Dalrymple explains:
“(Winning your division) guaranteed you a playoff spot, but they seed the teams across the country based on points per game ratio or average.
The U16 program was seeded ninth, so the top eight seeds in the country were the first teams in each group and we were the ninth, so unfortunately we fell into the second round of teams getting selected.
But that’s just stats. At the end of the day we’re ultimately confident we’ll go there and have success.”
That’s what you like to hear.
As is the fact that both teams aren’t going there just to make up the numbers and enjoy the experience. They’re going there to win:
“Martin Rennie’s philosophy is to develop a winning mentality and winning coaching.
The players have earned the right to go to the national stage and now they have to flick the switch from development and putting performances in, to now winning games, and that’s ultimately the last test of their development.”
So who are our lads up against in their quest for glory?
The U18’s have been drawn against Pateadores, Weston FC and Texans SC Houston.
All three made it through to the playoffs in wild card spots thanks to their overall PPG ratio, and the Caps have played all bar Weston FC already this season, so have a little bit of an idea what to expect.
First up on Monday are Pateadores, who hail from around Irvine, California and are the reigning U18 Playoff Champs. They play in the SoCal Division of the Western Conference and finished fourth in their division behind LA Galaxy, Chivas USA and Real Salt Lake. Their 1.63 PPG average saw them make the playoffs and give them the chance to defend their title.
The Caps have played them once this year, beating them 1-0 in a close game in Surrey on March 31st, thanks to a 73rd minute Yassin Essa goal. That was the last loss for Pateadores, who come into the tournament unbeaten in five.
The next day, Weston FC are the opponents. Hailing from near Fort Lauderdale in Florida, Weston also finished fourth in their Division, the Southeast Division of the Southern Conference, with a GGP of 1.76.
It might all come down to the final match on Thursday against Houston Texans Soccer Club, who finished in third place in the Texas Division of the Central Conference.
They just missed out on an automatic qualifying spot in a division won by FC Dallas. They got in with their 1.87 PPG ratio and head into the playoffs unbeaten in their last six matches.
The Texans will feel comfortable at home, in the surroundings and heat. They also have the advantage of being one of the few teams to beat the Caps this season, winning 3-1 at the Florida showcase in December, despite Yassin Essa giving the Caps a 1-0 lead at half time.
Let’s hope for some revenge when it really matters.
The U16’s have been drawn against FC Greater Boston, Charlotte Soccer Academy and South Carolina United Battery, none of whom have faced the Caps this season.
All three sides automatically qualified for the playoffs, with Greater Boston and South Carolina winning their respective divisions.
The Battery are first up on Tuesday, having won the Southeast Division of the South Conference with an impressive PPG of 2.16.
Charlotte Soccer Academy are next up on Wednesday. Charlotte finished a distant second in the Atlantic Division of the South Conference, with a PPG of just 1.56. On paper, this should be the Caps easiest match but Charlotte have only one loss in their last eight games.
The U16’s third and final group game is on Friday against Greater Boston, who head into the playoffs on a four game winning streak. The Massachusetts side narrowly won the Northeast Division of the Eastern Conference ahead of the New England Revolution, despite having a worse PPG ratio of 1.81.
A tougher group than the U18’s but certainly one that is very winnable.
Both the Whitecaps teams have the players and abilities to make it through to Finals week. What is going to be the real test for them is not so much their opponents as the blistering Texas heat, with temperatures expected to reach highs of around 35 degrees every day and possibly into the 40’s. It’s going to feel in the 40’s no matter what.
With the U18’s having two games kicking off at 6pm local time and one at 9am, they might miss the worst of it. The U16’s have a tougher 9am, 4.30pm and 6pm schedule. Missing the worst of it of course means temperatures only in the very high 20’s!
Vancouver will be playing sides that are used to such heat and humidity and if they can overcome that, then I think we’ll be looking at two group winners and players that will be able to handle whatever MLS or NASL throws at them down the road.
No matter what happens to both teams in the playoffs, we should all be proud of what they’ve achieved and the development we’ve seen from them this season.
They’ve done themselves proud and they’ve done Vancouver Whitecaps proud. You can’t ask for more than that.
We’ll have updates from Dallas here on AFTN throughout the week, but Caps fans can get real-time updates through US Soccer’s Twitter account @ussoccer_ynt and look out for the hashtag #AcademyPlayoffs.