This week, Vancouver Whitecaps FC agreed to have youngster Caleb Clarke go on a two-week trial with FC Rot-Weiss Erfurt in Germany’s third-tier ‘3.Liga’.
If this trial is successful, Clarke - who turned 19 on Saturday - will likely be loaned to FC Rot-Weiss Erfurt for one year. This is a good move for Caleb and the ‘Caps, and is one of the many pathways for young players to make the grade at the highest level.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC Residency has grown from 20 to over 80 players in the past year. Even now our U-16 and U-18 Residency teams are playing in Texas in the United States Soccer Development Academy (USSDA) playoffs after both teams finished first in their respective age groups. On Thursday, the U-18 team won their group and advanced among the final eight teams in the entire USSDA, while the U-16 team went undefeated but fell just short of advancing on goal differential.
The Residency program has received a lot of praise throughout North America for the job we are doing in developing young players. With Whitecaps FC head coach Martin Rennie wanting a winning mentality throughout the club, it bodes well that both teams have had winning USSDA seasons, as they try to develop their game to make the jump to the next level.
The challenge Whitecaps FC currently have is when these players get to Caleb Clarke’s age. They are still young and in need of much playing time. So what are the options for the club and these players?
We have seen Russell Teibert sign an MLS contract last year and then start the memorable season-opener versus Toronto FC. Russell played a strong game and would probably have got a lot more minutes, if not for some niggling injuries. He has not hit the same heights so far this season, but he is knocking on the door and has to be ready to take his chance, when it comes.
Bryce Alderson is another Residency product that signed an MLS contract and is an exciting prospect. At 18 years of age, Bryce has huge potential.
Both Russell and Bryce are gaining valuable experience training with the first team and playing reserve team games, but like any young players in a club, Whitecaps FC would like to be in a position to offer them more games.
This is why we are seeing Caleb going on trial, in the hopes of securing a loan deal that will afford him valuable time on the pitch playing high-quality games. With this experience, he will come back to the ‘Caps a more complete player.
Another option for Whitecaps FC is to look to the lower divisions in North America and loan out young players, so they can develop their game, plus try and help a second or third-tier club be successful. Below MLS, there is the second-tier North American Soccer League (NASL) and the third-tier United Soccer Leagues Professional Division (USL PRO).
A third development pathway is through the university or college route. We have seen first-hand what players out of college can do, having selected striker Darren Mattocks out of Akron University in this year’s MLS SuperDraft.
If our Residency players are not ready to make the jump to MLS at 17 or 18 years of age, all is not lost. Young players can go to college to get an education and develop their game at a very competitive level.
If they develop their game enough, Whitecaps FC would have the option of bringing them back to the club, as they would be Homegrown players.
So whichever decision is made, there are many ways to make the grade.