With the completion of the 2011 United Soccer Leagues (USL) Premier Development League (PDL) season for Vancouver Whitecaps FC Residency (8W-5L-3D), the time has come to review their productive campaign and highlight some of the major accomplishments after a third-place finish in the PDL's Western Conference, Northwest Division.
In a league that features players up to the U-23 age-group level, the Residency team's focus on player development, rather than overall team success, has resulted in another beneficial step for some of Canada’s best, young soccer talent. With 31 different players participating in the program this season, Whitecaps FC Residency featured a team built on high levels of athleticism, speed, and enthusiasm that resulted in some fantastic individual achievements.
Led by head coach Richard Grootscholten, the Residency squad made great progress, developing not only individual players, but the club's full-time program as a whole. "The most important part of this whole season was how we developed as a team," the Dutchman told whitecapsfc.com. "It was wonderful to see how the players learned to play their positions, both with possession and without. Of course, we want to win and we like to win, but the most important part is how these players developed into young professionals."
This season, the Residency team received impressive leadership from centre back and team captain Derrick Bassi. The Canadian U-20 international started all 16 matches and led the team with 1,400 minutes played to help earn the young 'Caps three clean sheets this season. Bassi's talent and vocal leadership were crucial to the Residency’s success with a backline that saw ten different players rotate through those positions; a quality that added to his impressive displays.
The Residency team's season was also highlighted by five players that were selected for Canada's U-17 national team that competed in the 2011 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Mexico. Defenders Adam Polakiewicz and Daniel Stanese were joined by captain Bryce Alderson, winger Yassin Essa, and Matteo Pasquotti. They helped guide Canada to a 1W-1L-1D record in the group stage, nearly reaching the knockout stages of the tournament. All five players were also key contributors with Whitecaps FC Residency this season, with highlighted development from Alderson in midfield and Essa as an offensive weapon at the top of the team's attacking formation.
Another major highlight of development was the outstanding play of striker Long Tan. While the Chinese goalscorer only made six PDL appearances this summer, the 22-year-old scored five goals, including a fine match winner versus British Columbia rivals Victoria Highlanders FC at Empire Field on June 5. The former FC Tampa Bay forward's progress has since earned him four Major League Soccer appearances with Vancouver and second-half action in last month's international friendly versus English Premier League giants Manchester City FC. Tan's fellow striker, Caleb Clarke, also had a productive PDL season, as he produced three goals and three assists with a team-high 38 shots on goal.
Another positive sign for the Residency squad was the play of their goalkeepers. The trio of Brian Sylvestre, Callum Irving, and Sean Melvin combined to be a very successful rotation, with each shot-stopper receiving valuable time between the posts. Sylvestre made five PDL appearances this season and also spent time with the United States U-20 national team. Irving led the Residency team with eight PDL appearances for 720 minutes of action, while Melvin earned three league starts and performed admirably when called upon.
The 2011 season also saw valuable minutes played in tough situations by the Residency team's younger players - a quality not overlooked for a squad competing against physically stronger and more mature sides. Standouts like Spencer DeBoice, Ben Fisk, Tim Hickson, Carlos Marquez, Ben McKendry, Declan Rodriquez, Alex Rowley, and Jason van Blerk all left their mark on the campaign by contributing successfully in all areas of the pitch.
Grootscholten knows the importance of his squad’s development moving forward, especially as a feeder system for Whitecaps FC's MLS squad. "It was a fantastic PDL season, as we played against older teams and found ways to battle through adversity," he said. "There were a lot of highlights, a lot of time on the road, but that's how these players learn to be professional in regards to rest, training, and nutrition. Overall, it was a great season in developing MLS-calibre talent."
With Whitecaps FC Residency now on a short break after a busy 2010-11 year, most players will enjoy a small break before the program restarts in a newly-expanded format early next month. As for Alderson, Bassi, Fisk, and Clarke, they will continue training with the club's first team, which allows them the privilege to play in MLS Reserve League matches and further impress Tom Soehn and his staff for the future.