Having started as a program this past September, Vancouver Whitecaps FC Residency are set to take the next step by joining the United Soccer Leagues’ Premier Development League in 2008.As part of the club’s growing development structure, the residency players will have the opportunity to grow further as emerging professionals when they enter the Northwest Division of the PDL’s Western Conference.The Whitecaps will be one of 67 clubs to play in the league, with the USL having amended its PDL regulations to allow Vancouver to play as the first professional side in the U-23 league. “The way we are viewing it is the Whitecaps are pioneers in trying to blaze a trail for development in North America,” Whitecaps director of youth development Dan Lenarduzzi told whitecapsfc.com. “The USL has pretty much adapted their policies around the PDL to allow us to play professional players in that league. I think the USL is probably looking at this as a model for other professional clubs in that they can use the PDL as a type of reserve league for their players to play in.”Starting next May, Whitecaps Residency will play a 16-game schedule in the Northwest Division, with their eight home matches to be played at Burnaby’s Simon Fraser University. Thomas Niendorf’s youngsters will play teams from Washington State, Oregon, and Utah, as well as Fraser Valley rivals Abbotsford Mariners. Regular season action will conclude in late July, with the top two sides from the division advancing to the PDL’s Western Conference playoffs.Lenarduzzi believes the PDL will provide a valuable platform. “With the residency program being the pinnacle of our youth development portion of the club, I think the ability to have those players showcase in a structured North American league is not only great for the development of our residency players, but also a great league to profile ourselves to the rest of North America, as we continue to recruit players into our residency program.”The inaugural residency group have been training full-time and playing games since September, with the squad having completed a highly-successful trip to Germany in late October. Though the group have played a number of high-quality friendly games, Lenarduzzi feels the PDL will provide a fresh challenge to the talented set of youngsters. “The biggest thing for us and for the players is that they’re playing in a league that puts stress on them in terms of getting competitive results and being able to perform in a game that has some meaning to it,” Lenarduzzi said. “It will also be a good measuring stick for ourselves, as to where we are across North America at that age group.”With the USL allowing the Whitecaps to play a professional side in the PDL, the club will also have the opportunity to use members of the men’s first team in league games next summer. “While the players we are playing will be much younger than the players we are competing against, the club will have the ability to play some of our first-team players in the PDL who may need to get game fitness back. It is a concept that I think other professional clubs will use. As we move forward, we’ll find that the PDL will become a really viable reserve development system for a lot of professional clubs, as well as amateur clubs.”Stay logged on to whitecapsfc.com for the latest news on Whitecaps Residency’s inaugural season in next year’s PDL.