If you watch a Whitecaps FC MLS match these days, you will certainly notice the impact of Russell Teibert. The third-year MLS player has emerged as one of the top young talents in the league, and that's no fluke.
Teibert is a product of the Whitecaps FC Residency program. He is the shining example of what the club hopes will become a conveyer belt of talent for the 'Caps first team, as well as for the Canadian men's national team.
If this season’s performances from the U-18s and U-16s are anything to go by, there could be a few more Teiberts lighting up BC Place in the next few years.
Evidence of success
Look no further than seeing 18 Whitecaps FC Residency players called up to Canadian youth national teams in the past week.
U-18 national team (7): goalkeeper Nolan Wirth; defenders Sam Adekugbe, Quinton Duncan, and Jackson Farmer; midfielders Kianz Froese and Mitch Piraux; and striker Brody Huitema.
USSDA Playoff highlights
Both the U-18s and U-16s fielded younger-than-average teams this season. A number of talented U-16 players were promoted to the U-18 team, which created a ripple effect of having younger Pre-Residency players move up to the U-16 squad.
Naturally, this led to varying results on the field, but the one consistent result was experience and growth for all of the 'Caps youngsters.
While the U-16s had growing pains, they improved steadily throughout the season. The U-18s, meanwhile, were a force to be reckoned with.
Among the U-18 team's accomplishments this season were winning the Western Conference Northwest Division title for a second straight season, finishing the regular season tied for the most points in the USSDA (69), and finishing as the highest scoring team in the USSDA (98). They were also home to the leading scorer in the 80-team USSDA, as Brody Huitema topped the charts with 30 goals in 29 matches.
Though this was only the second year in the league for the squad, the group already had a great deal to live up to. In the club's inaugural year in 2012, the U-18s made it all the way to the championship final. This year's team proved equally talented and also made it among the final eight teams at Academy Finals Week.
Faced with some tough opposition, the 'Caps equitted themselves well. Several players stepped up during the playoff run, including goalkeeper Sean Melvin, who was later named in mlssoccer.com’s Top 5 players of the USSDA Finals.
Gordon Forrest, head coach of Whitecaps FC U-18s, was pleased with the team’s performance over the course of the season and saw the experiences as a solid learning curve for his young side.
“We’ve got to take everything into account; the whole season, and we’re very happy with the development of the young players,” Forrest commented. “It was good to play against the top opposition that we did at Finals Week, and the tough group that we played in. It was good learning and good development for the boys.”
Particularly pleasing for Forrest, Vancouver’s high performance head coach, was seeing a number of his Residency players take the step up to playing in Reserve matches and training with the first team. Residency players Sam Adekugbe, Marco Bustos, Yassin Essa, and Kianz Froese impressed in July’s 4-0 win over Seattle Sounders FC Reserves and Forrest is looking forward to seeing this trend continue.
“Everyone in the squad puts in the effort, but there are a few players that have pushed and when they’re playing in the reserve games and training in a first team environment they’ve acquitted themselves really well. That’s the main thing for our program is how are they going to handle that next stage and that next step, and they’ve shown that they’re ready for that challenge.”
Following the conclusion of one successful season for Whitecaps FC, the 'Caps Residency teams can now look forward to the coming campaign with renewed optimism.
Forrest is looking forward to the younger members of the squad continuing the growth that he has seen since coming on board to lead the Residency program in October 2012.
“It was a young team, so there’s a core group there,” said Forrest. “We’ll add to that group and we’ll look at any of the younger ones that can potentially make that step at some point, but we’re really looking forward to working with the boys when they come back so that we can take them on in their individual development.”
Inevitably, with the end of the campaign some of the U-18s will be graduating from the Residency program. Some have moved on to collegiate opportunities such as Spencer DeBoice (SFU), Quinton Duncan (Tulsa), Brody Huitema (Duke), and Sean Melvin (UNC-Wilmington). These players will continue to be a part of the Blue and White brethren, and many will return during the summers to play with the 'Caps U-23 squad in the PDL as they continue along their development.
And with these graduations comes the opportunity for younger players to step up into leadership roles. Players such as Marco Bustos, Matthew Chow, and Jordan Haynes will be counted on to lead the way for the U-18s from the experiences they've already gained, while others move up from the U-16s and take the next step in their progression.
The conveyer belt of talent carries on.