2011 proved to be a landmark year in the short, but influential, history of Vancouver Whitecaps FC Residency. From tournament action to league competition, the club’s full-time player development program also underwent an important expansion to three age groups during the year.
After taking charge of the Residency program in November 2010, Dutchman Richard Grootscholten’s influence during his first full year in charge has been essential to the program’s growth and ongoing progress of developing talent for Whitecaps FC in Major League Soccer and the Canadian national team program. There was also growth on the sports science side of the program following the recent addition of former Whitecaps FC player and men’s team physiotherapist Chris Franks.
After taking the Residency squad on a six-match tour of Mexico in November 2010, Grootscholten’s side made their fourth appearance in the U-19 Super Group of the Dr. Pepper Dallas Cup last April. Playing in Bracket C, the Residency team started their Dallas Cup XXXII campaign well with a 3-2 victory over Brazil's Sport Club Corinthians Paulista. However, a pair of 2-0 defeats to Mexico's Tigres de la Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León (Tigres UANL) and the U-17/U-18 Academy side from fellow MLS club Real Salt Lake meant the young ‘Caps could not advance to the Super Group semifinals. They wrapped up their trip to Texas with a 2-1 friendly win over fellow Super Group participant Liga Deportiva Alajuelense of Costa Rica.
Soon after the Dallas Cup, Grootscholten and the Residency squad began their fourth season in the United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League (PDL) at the start of May. Boosted by the experience of the club’s MLS players, the young Residency team - many of which were playing their first seasons in the league - just missed out on a playoff berth after finishing third in the Northwest Division of the PDL’s Western Conference with a record of 8W-5L-3D.
The end of the PDL season also closed a chapter for the Residency program, as it expanded from one group of around 25 players at the U-17 to U-19 age levels to three groups totalling around 70 players. The process of expansion included a three-day combine of U-14 and U-16 players back in March, as well as extensive scouting throughout the province of British Columbia and across Canada. For 2011-12 Residency year, two U-14 groups (junior and senior) were created from nearly 40 players from across BC and are led by Residency staff coach Bart Choufour. The newly-created U-16 squad, meanwhile, has a strong Western Canadian influence, with several players identified from the club’s MLS territory of Western Canada (BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba). The most experienced Residency group are the U-18 squad, who have all spent over a year in the program to this stage.
Further history was also made in September when Whitecaps FC became the first and only Canadian club to join America's premier youth academy system, as the U-16 and U-18 Residency teams made their debuts in the United States Soccer Development Academy (USSDA). Though 11 matches of their inaugural 2011-12 USSDA campaign, the U-18 squad have made a fine start with a 8W-1L-2D record, while the U-16 side finished the year with a 6W-3L-2D record.
Of course, the main goal of Whitecaps FC Residency is to develop players for the club’s MLS squad and to represent Canada at the international level. Further progress was made in 2011, with two-time Canadian U-17 Player of the Year Bryce Alderson becoming the fourth Residency player to sign an MLS contract with the club on November 17. The Kitchener, Ontario, native follows Philippe Davies, Bryan Sylvestre, and Russell Teibert in making the jump to the first team. The program’s contribution to the Canadian national team program was also significant this year. Residency players were involved with Canada’s U-17, U-18, and U-20 national teams in 2011, with several members helping the country to qualify and take part in the 2011 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Mexico.
With some of Canada’s best young talent currently developing in a unique full-time training environment, the success story that is Whitecaps FC Residency may still to be written…