Preview: Whitecaps FC U-23 side set for Juan De Fuca Plate showdown in season opener
VANCOUVER, BC – Vancouver Whitecaps FC U-23 kicks off its 2014 United Soccer League (USL) Premier Development League (PDL) campaign this Sunday against Victoria Highlanders FC. The match kicks off at 2 p.m. PT at Royal Athletic Park in Victoria.
VANCOUVER WHITECAPS FC U-23
Whitecaps FC U-23 finished two spots behind Victoria in the Northwest Division last season, though the 'Caps did claim the Juan De Fuca Plate – a supporter-sponsored competition to crown the best PDL team in British Columbia.
The core of Vancouver's 2014 team will be comprised of seven Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) players from the Canada West conference. All seven players will be added to the roster, pending USL approval.
Returning from the 2013 squad are defender Colton O’Neill (University of the Fraser Valley), midfielders Harry Lakhan and Reynold Stewart (University of British Columbia), and striker Niall Cousens (University of British Columbia). Cousens was the leading scorer for the U-23 team last season with eight goals, and tied for the team lead with four assists.
New to this year’s team are midfielder/striker Cody Cook (Mount Royal University), defender Jordian Farahani and midfielder/striker Brett Levis (University of Saskatchewan).
The acquisition of Levis is particularly notable for Sunday's match, as Levis is a former Highlander who led the team with 12 goals in 16 matches last season.
“Brett is looking forward to the game," said Whitecaps FC U-23 head coach Niall Thompson. "He knows it will be tough, but it's always exciting to play your old team.”
The remainder of the 2014 Whitecaps FC U-23 roster will be made up of players from the club’s Residency program, as well as select loans from the MLS squad.
VICTORIA HIGHLANDERS FC
Loaded with a bevy of talented scorers and with experience to spare, Victoria Highlanders FC are going to make a formidable opponent for Whitecaps U-23 this season. Rivals in the Western Conference, the Highlanders fared very well last season on the strengths of their talent and experience.
Returnees for the squad include Blair Sturrock (1985-born), Riley O’Neill (1981), and captain Tyler Hughes (1980). Highlanders FC also feature several above-average college players, including seven coming from the University of Victoria Vikes. Trying to build off of their impressive first-place finish in 2013, Highlanders FC picked up former Whitecaps FC U-23 player Cam Hundal.
Highlanders FC finished first in the PDL’s Northwest Division last season and, although it might not be easy with a new group of faces and their highest scorer leaving for greener pastures, they're confident in their chances again in 2014.
“Definitely each game we’ve gotten more with comfortable with each other,” head coach Steven Simonson told the club's website. “We’ve worked on different elements of our game, focusing on possession, outright attack and placing good focus on defensive shape—it’s all going really well.”
JUAN DE FUCA PLATE
The Juan De Fuca Plate is an in-season, supporter-sponsored competition to crown the best BC-based team in the PDL. At this point, that is a competition solely between Vancouver and Victoria due to Fraser Valley dropping out following the 2012 season.
In the first meeting between Vancouver and Victorial last season, a 3-2 'Caps win decided the eventual winner of the Juan de Fuca Plate. The second game ended in hard-fought 1-1 draw, which sealed the title for Whitecaps FC.