It’s been a banner year for Vancouver Whitecaps FC Residency teams in the United States Soccer Development Academy (USSDA), and they’re hoping things only get better with playoffs set to begin this week.
Whitecaps FC have taken the league by storm in just their first season competing in America’s premier youth academy system. As the lone Canadian club in the league, the U-18 and U-16 ‘Caps claimed the division titles in their respective age groups and now they’re both off to Frisco, Texas to compete in the USSDA round of 32.
Both squads have been placed into one of eight groups of four teams and will play three matches over the span of four days with a berth in the USSDA Final Eight Championships on the line.
“Every team that’s in that playoff bracket has obviously earned the right to be there,” Residency head coach Craig Dalrymple told whitecapsfc.com. “I don’t think there’s any game you look at and think that’ll be an easy game. We need to be at our sharpest and at our best to go out there to win the group in both age groups.”
After finishing first in the West Conference, Northwest Division, Whitecaps FC U-18 Residency (18W-5L-3D) earned the top seed in Group 2, which also consists of Texans SC Houston, Weston FC, and Pateadores.
All season long, the U-18 ‘Caps have consistently found ways to score. Led by Caleb Clarke (24 goals) and Yassin Essa (18 goals), who notched a hat-trick in the squad’s regular season finale, the ‘Caps scored 80 goals in 26 matches this season — second to none in the entire West Conference.
“That group will always score goals,” Dalrymple said. “They’ve got a lot of creative attacking-minded players in the group. The balance between that group and some of the more defensive-minded players is good.”
Coming off two of their most dominant performances of the season, in which they outscored their opponents by a combined total of 15-2, the ‘Caps enter the postseason with no shortage of confidence.
“They’re a confident group, and they’ve always been confident,” said Dalrymple. “The last two results, they’ve obviously hit peak form and they’ll look to continue that in the playoffs.”
Their first test will be June 25 against a familiar West Conference foe.
Pateadores (13W-9L-5D), based in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, is the lone Group 2 club the ‘Caps have faced this season. The California outfit, which finished fourth in the West Conference, SoCal Division, is unbeaten in five matches. Their last loss came at the hands of Vancouver on March 31 in Surrey. Essa scored the lone goal of the match as the ‘Caps claimed a 1-0 victory.
Vancouver will be right back at it the following evening against Weston FC (14W-9L-2D), based in Weston, Florida. Although they dropped their final two matches of the season, Weston FC scored more goals than any other team in the South Conference, finishing fourth in the Southeast Division.
Finally, the ‘Caps conclude their spell of three matches in four days on June 28 against Texans SC Houston (16W-5L-10D), who finished third in the Central Conference, Texas Division this season. Texans SC enter the postseason riding a six-match unbeaten streak.
Having won six of their last seven matches, Whitecaps FC U-16 Residency (17W-6L-3D) will be the second seed in Group 3, which also consists of South Carolina United Battery, FC Greater Boston, and Charlotte Soccer Academy.
The ‘Caps, who have conceded the fewest goals in the entire West Conference, lost just one match in divisional play this season on their way to a first-place finish in the West Conference, Northwest Division.
On the other end of the pitch, striker Brody Huitema has led the squad’s attack. His 20 goals in 22 appearances account for more than a third of the team’s offensive output this season.
Despite losing their final match of the season, Dalrymple said he believes the U-16s are in good shape heading into next week.
“I think the players need to recognize and focus on the process of winning games, rather than winning games,” he said. “The process of doing all the right things at the right times is more important and will enable them to go on and be successful.”
The U-16 portion of the tournament gets underway June 26, when the ‘Caps have a date with FC Greater Boston (14W-7L-5D) from Waban, Massachusetts. FC Greater Boston finished first in the East Conference, Northeast Division, after losing just one match in divisional play. They enter the postseason having won four straight.
Two of the top-ranked defences in the league will go head-to-head the following evening when the ‘Caps meet Charlotte Soccer Academy (11W-8L-6D) from Matthew, North Carolina. Both squads have only conceded 22 goals this season, and Charlotte, who placed second in the South Conference, Atlantic Division, have only lost one of their last eight matches.
Things won’t get any easier for the ‘Caps when they conclude their playoff round on June 29 with a tilt against the top-seeded South Carolina United Battery (17W-5L-3D). The Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina side earned the top seed after finishing first in the South Conference, Southeast Division. They’re led by striker James Carlin, who has scored 22 goals in 21 appearances this season.
The winner of each group will advance to the USSDA Final Eight from July 16 to 23 at BBVA Compass Stadium, home of Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo.