While Vancouver Whitecaps FC have struggled to find their feet at times in their first MLS season, the club’s future stars have helped Canada's U-17 program to one of its best years ever.
The Whitecaps FC Residency program played a big part, and with an expansion of the full-time program scheduled for next month, that contribution to the national set-up is set to grow.
Five young Residency players helped Canada earn a second-place finish at this year’s CONCACAF U-17 Championship, and that performance meant an appearance at the FIFA U-17 World Cup for the first time in 16 years. Once again, the ‘Caps were well represented, with six Residency players named to the squad for Mexico 2011.
“[Residency programs have] been the missing piece in our development,” Canada U-17 national team head coach Sean Fleming told MLSsoccer.com by phone last week. "When kids were 15, 16, it was difficult to see where they were going to go, but now they’ve got an opportunity to go to a top-notch academy with great coaching and an ideal environment where they’re going to be challenged by other great players."
Perhaps the most recognizable Residency player is central midfielder Bryce Alderson, who captained the U-17 national team. His tackling, passing, and poise stood out during those tournaments, and Fleming explained that giving Alderson the captain’s armband was an obvious choice.
"He was the captain from Day One," Fleming said. "I remember our first camp in April in Nebraska, when we were playing Creighton University, and he was very, very sick in the game. But that just showed his character, he didn’t want to come off, and there’s no way he should have been playing. Eventually, we did take him off, but from that day on, he showed what a great leader he is."
Another Residency player who played a prominent role for the U-17 national side this year was central defender Daniel Stanese. The New York-born Canadian’s tackling and reading of the game played a big part in ensuring the Canucks did not concede a goal in the CONCACAF U-17 Championship until the team’s eventual loss in the final to the United States.
“He played every minute during [the CONCACAF U-17 Championship] and had a great tournament, and then he did the same in the World Cup,” Fleming said. “He’s steady, he’s got good feet, and he’s got a presence in the back. He’s one that really takes responsibility for his own performance and [that of the] others. He’s another one with a bright future, and has great potential.”
Things are set to get even better for young players and the Canadian national program, Whitecaps FC will be expanding their Residency program in September to include U-14, U-16 and U-18 categories.
The program’s expansion - announced back in April - means the number of players in Residency will grow from the current 25 to more than 80 players.
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps FC for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @martinmacmahon