Tough tests for Whitecaps youth side - The Province

Tough tests for Whitecaps youth side
Residency team takes on the world's elite in Dallas Cup tournament

BY MARC WEBER

Colin Miller describes the Whitecaps' Dallas Cup draw as "the group from hell," but he also thinks his under-20 squad has the experience needed to handle the heat.

The residency boys open play at the prestigious youth tournament at noon PT today against Eintracht Frankfurt of Germany. Then they face national teams from the U.S. on Monday and Mexico on Wednesday. Only the group winners advance to the semifinals.

Miller, serving as interim coach of the Whitecaps' residency program since the firing of Thomas Niendorf one month ago, has taken a roster that includes regular first-team practice players Ethan Gage and Philippe Davies. Also in the mix is Abbotsford's Gagandeep Dosanjh, recently returned from a loan to FC Energie Cottbus's under-23 side in Germany.

For Davies and Dosanjh, 19, and Gage, 18, this marks their third trip to the big tourney in Texas.

"I've gone with the most senior group I could have picked and for obvious reasons," said Miller, the former Canadian national team captain who signed on as the Whitecaps' first-team assistant coach six weeks ago.

"We've got three fantastic games ahead of us, but we've got an experienced group and we've got some good depth. You want to come down to a tournament like this and show well and we've done that in the past."

The Whitecaps finished runner-up to champion Sao Paulo of Brazil last year. Liverpool claimed the crown in 2008.

This year's Super Group division includes youth sides from English clubs Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, Germany's Hoffenheim, Brazil's Cruzeiro and the Japanese national team.

Miller called the Whitecaps "clear underdogs" and said that label is good for his group. While there is plenty of experience and skill, the program is also going through a major shift in style.

Whereas Niendorf preached a possession game relatively full of personal freedom, Miller has had one month to implement the first-team focus on shape, defensive work and counterpunching. The hope is to ease the transition between programs.

"They changed the way they play completely, but it's good for me and Ethan because we're used to it," said Davies.

Gage and Davies will play central roles in a strong midfield that also includes 18-year-old American Joseph Gyau on right wing and two-time Canadian under-17 player of the year Russell Teibert on the left side.

"I think the major difference with Colin is if you don't do your job well, you're just not going to play," Davies continued. "It's a different mentality but the guys are buying into it.

"It's a pretty hard group we're in with two national teams; the other groups don't have the same quality. It's going to be hard but we have experience and it should be interesting. We feel pretty confident."

Miller said the key for an interim coach is to keep things simple, something he knows a little about having guided Canada for three games between the Holger Osieck and Frank Yallop eras. It's his nature anyway, he said.

"The game is difficult enough without trying to complicate it," he said. "I'm here to make this transition as smooth as possible."

Miller won't have the residency job for much longer. Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi said the club expects to hire Niendorf's replacement in the next month and Miller will be back to a full-time role with the men.

"There are people putting their names forward and we also have some candidates in mind," Lenarduzzi said.

mweber@theprovince.com

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