Vancouver Whitecaps FC U-18 and U-16 Residency teams begin their United States Soccer Development Academy (USSDA) seasons this weekend with a tricky doubleheader in California.
Led by head of high performance Stuart Neely – who is acting as interim U-18 head coach – the U-18 ‘Caps visit Orange Coast College this Saturday for a clash with Pateadores before returning the next day to play Strikers FC. Both matches kick off at 10 a.m. PT.
Craig Dalrymple’s U-16 squad, meanwhile, also take on Pateadores and Strikers FC this weekend, with their matches both taking place at 12:30 p.m. PT on Saturday and Sunday at the same venue.
Every point will count for the Residency teams in the opening weeks of the season, considering the first seven matches are all on the road.
Both teams enjoyed successful 2011-12 campaigns in the USSDA, with the U-18s progressing to the championship final against FC Dallas Academy at BBVA Compass Stadium on July 22, while the U-16 boys also made the playoffs and came up agonizingly short of making the final eight.
The U-18 ‘Caps began their preparations for the upcoming season on August 21. In a recent friendly, the team drew 1-1 with Coquitlam Metro-Ford’s senior men’s team.
“There’s a good level of excitement in the group,” Neely told whitecapsfc.com. “They’re hungry and they want to get the league started and get the first weekend under their belt.
“They’re a young team, as most of them are graduates from our U-16 team, so they’re anxious to test themselves against an older age bracket.”
Neely added that he is looking forward to seeing how his charges adapt to the rigorous opening schedule against tough opposition.
“It’s all a test for the young boys that have hopes of heading into a first team environment,” he acknowledged.
And while every team wants to win, Neely said the emphasis was on creating the right mindset for his squad.
“First and foremost, the players must have a mentality to compete,” he said. “We rarely talk about winning the games, it’s the mentality to compete with the opposition that is paramount. The attitude towards game preparation must be of the highest degree with attention to detail, and then obviously when we get into the game, we really want to see that competitive spirit come out in the game in a very fast, free-flowing football environment.”
In preparation for their own opening matches, Dalrymple’s U-16 ‘Caps took on Coquitlam Metro-Ford’s U-18 side in an exhibition match that finished 1-1, and the coach was happy with what he saw.
“The intent was for us to get some playing time and to get their feet wet,” he said. “It was also competitive so we got out of it what we wanted to get out of it.”
This year’s squad is a “little bit younger” compared to last season, with a large contingent of 1997-born players graduating from Whitecaps FC Pre-Residency.
Some of those graduates travelled with the team last year as underage players, so they have a sound idea of what they will be coming up against.
“With a mixture of younger, inexperienced players and some of the boys that have already had a season in the U-16 program, I think we’ve got a nice blend,” Dalrymple said.
Echoing the sentiments of Neely, Dalrymple’s primary goal is to see his players develop over the course of the season.
“ … And hopefully if we’ve done our job, then we’ll see a number of our players graduate into our U-18 program next year.”