VANCOUVER, BC – Sam Adekugbe’s Major League Soccer debut last weekend offered a glimpse into the future for Vancouver Whitecaps FC – a future that looks brighter than ever.
Whitecaps FC president Bob Lenarduzzi spoke at length on Tuesday about the club’s commitment to its Residency program and how he expects more players to soon follow in the footsteps of Adekugbe and fellow Residency product Russell Teibert, who led the ‘Caps with nine assists this season.
“We have a youth system we’re now starting to see the benefits of with [Adekugbe and Teibert] and there are other players that we know are going to make their way through the first team,” Lenarduzzi told reporters at BC Place.
In addition to Adekugbe, there are number of Whitecaps FC Residency players who appear to be on the verge of knocking down the door with the first team. The club is very high on midfielders Marco Bustos and Kianz Froese, who recently represented Canada at the U-17 FIFA World Cup, among others.
Should Whitecaps FC sign another Residency graduate, which would be the sixth such player on the squad including midfielder Bryce Alderson, striker Caleb Clarke and goalkeeper Simon Thomas, it would only add to an exciting young core that was already on display in 2013.
Adekugbe became the eighth Whitecaps FC player born in 1990 or later to play in an MLS match this season. Six of those players, Erik Hurtado, Gershon Koffie, Johnny Leveron, Kekuta Manneh, Darren Mattocks and Teibert, made 10 or more appearances – a number not many teams in the league can match.
Combined, these six players contributed 16 goals and 16 assists over the course of this season. Manneh, who at 18 years old is the youngest of the bunch, led the way with six goals in just 764 minutes of action.
“Kekuta has demonstrated in the last four or five games that he’s very capable of scoring goals even though he’s only 18 years old,” Lenarduzzi told TEAM 1040 on Tuesday. “We will encourage whoever comes in that if the players are good enough … we’d like to see those players get an opportunity regardless of what age they’re at.”
Only four players in the league scored more goals per 90 minutes of play than Manneh this season, and one of them was Whitecaps FC BMO Player of the Year Camilo Sanvezzo.
Since forming a striker partnership October 9 against Seattle Sounders FC, Camilo and Manneh scored all 10 of Whitecaps FC's goals in their final three matches of the season.
“I thought those two guys have probably been our best pairing up front since we started in MLS,” Lenarduzzi added. “We only saw it in four or five games but would love to see it over the course of a season.”
Camilo scored 22 goals in league play this season to claim the MLS Golden Boot as the league’s leading goalscorer. It’s sometimes easy to forget that the Brazilian, who is Whitecaps FC’s all-time leader in goals and appearances in MLS, is only 25 years old and very much on the upswing of his career.
“We think we have a lot of the building blocks in place,” Lenarduzzi said. “Now we need to determine who it is that’s going to get us to that next level.”