In case there was any doubt, Vancouver Whitecaps FC U-18 Residency (1W-0L-0D) made it abundantly clear Monday evening that they are not content with a berth in the United States Soccer Development Academy (USSDA) Final Eight.
They have their sights set on a league title, and they are off to a good start.
Midfielder Ben Fisk netted a natural hat-trick as Whitecaps FC kicked off Academy Finals Week with a 4-1 win over North Carolina Fusion (0W-1L-0D) Monday at Houston Amateur Sports Park in Houston, Texas.
Vancouver’s win, combined with a draw between De Anza Force (0W-0L-1D) and Colorado Rapids (0W-0L-1D), puts the ‘Caps atop Group 1 after the first day of competition.
The positive first result is especially important considering Vancouver’s opening day disappointment in the round of 32 last month in Frisco, Texas.
“We talked specifically about that before the game, trying to learn from that experience,” Residency head coach Craig Dalrymple told whitecapsfc.com. “It’s important [to get three points on opening night]. It settles the team and it settles the nerves.”
Although they entered the USSDA round of 32 with a wild card berth, North Carolina were unbeaten in eight matches heading into Monday’s contest. But neither team took control in the early stages of the match as it appeared jitters and nerves played a factor.
Midway through the first half, however, the Blue and White found their game. After receiving a ball from midfielder Bryce Alderson, Fisk opened the scoring with a clinical finish in the 25th minute to give the ‘Caps a 1-0 lead — a lead they would look to extend in the second half.
Essa figured in on three of Vancouver’s four goals, and although he did not find the scoresheet, Dalrymple said Clarke had one of his best games in a 'Caps uniform.
North Carolina nearly equalized just before the hour mark when a goal-mouth scramble ended up ringing off goalkeeper Callum Irving’s post, but the ‘Caps countered and Fisk banged in a rebound to make it 2-0 in the 59th minute.
After a frantic three minutes that saw Fisk complete his hat-trick, North Carolina respond with a long-range tally, and midfielder Ben McKendry score in his fourth straight postseason match, the final whistle sounded as the ‘Caps cruised to a 4-1 victory on the first day of Academy Finals Week.
With an important three points in their back pocket, the ‘Caps return to action Wednesday for an all-Western Conference, Northwest Division clash with De Anza Force, before concluding group play Friday against Colorado Rapids.
Should the ‘Caps win Group 1, they will play the winner of Group 2 for the USSDA championship Sunday at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Texas - home of Major League Soccer's Houston Dynamo.
VAN – Ben Fisk (Bryce Alderson) 25th minute
VAN – Ben Fisk (unassisted) 63
VAN – Ben Fisk (Yassin Essa) 77
NCF – Hassan Kouyateh (unassisted) 79
VAN – Ben McKendry (Yassin Essa) 80
NCF: 0-Jeff Caldwell; 32-Alex Rosenbower, 20-Cole Schwietering,7-Adam Storm, 6-Mason Billings (2-Erik Casterline, 69); 16-Sam McBride, 8-Warren Marshall, 13-Brandt Bronico, 36-Myles Mansfield (17-Taylor Adler, 69), 38-Hassan Kouyateh, 4-Alec Rotunda (10-Marco Sunol, 64)
Substitutions Not Used: 1-Cole Brooks, 26-Alex Requarth, 96-Matteo Busio, 14-Craver Stamey
Head coach: Marc Nicholls
VAN: 1-Callum Irving; 9-Adam Polakiewicz (17-Sam Adekugbe, 72), 14-Daniel Stanese, 5-Tim Hickson (15-Jason van Blerk, 87), 12-Declan Rodriguez; 8-Ben McKendry, 13-Alex Rowley, 10-Ben Fisk (11-Spencer DeBoice, 82), 2-Bryce Alderson (6-Carlos Marquez, 76), 7-Yassin Essa (3-Wesley Cain, 82); 4-Caleb Clarke
Substitutions Not Used: 30-Marco Carducci, 00-Said Jalali, 16-Carlos Patino
Head coach: Craig Dalrymple
Referee: Juliana Duncan
Assistant Referee 1: Brandon Rinkenberger
Assistant Referee 2: Kip Jackson
Fourth Official: Cedric Adams
ussoccer.com Man of the Match: Ben Fisk