VANCOUVER, BC - Vancouver Whitecaps FC Residency teams are aiming to end their United States Soccer Development Academy regular season on a high before embarking on another run in the Academy playoffs. The U-18 and U-16 'Caps finish off the year against Crossfire Premier on Saturday, May 31 at 60 Acres Park (Field 15) in Redmond, Washington. The U-18 match is scheduled to kick off at 1 p.m. PT, while the U-16s will hit the pitch at 3:30 p.m. PT.
Despite the guarantee that their squads will be playing beyond this weekend, both U-18 head coach Niall Thompson and U-16 head coach Rich Fagan are resolute that their clubs are focused on the task at hand this Saturday.
“As a staff we are big on mental preparation and as a team we are not yet thinking about the playoffs,” Fagan told whitecapsfc.com. “Saturday’s match is as important as the USSDA championship final.”
The ‘Caps, with a 15W-6L-5D record, sit third in the West Conference’s Northwest Division. Their second overall ranking in the Wildcard pool also seats them firmly in the playoffs for this season. However, a victory on Saturday would see them leap to second in their division and a higher seeding come playoff time.
Most recently, the 'Caps played to a draw against Real Salt Lake U-18 on May 17 at Coquitlam's Percy Perry Stadium. That match exemplified the fighting spirit the organization wants to instill in their youth programs. Down 1-0 going into the final minutes, the young ‘Caps pulled out all the stops and eventually equalized at the death, thanks to a great strike by Matthew Chow.
The Blue and White will have reinforcements for this contest, as leading scorers Marco Bustos, Kianz Froese, and Mitch Piraux, as well as defender Jackson Farmer and goalkeeper Nolan Wirth, return from Canada’s U-20 training camp in preparation for next year’s CONCACAF Under-20 Championship. Bustos and Froese, in particular, have been dynamite this season. The life-long friends and Manitoba natives have combined for 27 goals on the season going into the finale.
Crossfire Premier own the sixth best record in the Northwest Division at 11W-12L-3D. Unfortunately, their 23rd overall seeding in the Wilcard standings leaves them out of the playoff picture.
Despite the disparity between the two clubs in the standings, the ‘Caps know from personal experience not to take Crossfire Premier lightly. The two clubs last meeting this season ended in a 2-0 win for Vancouver, but the match was even until late, as Froese and Bustos put away goals in the 88th and 90th minutes.
“Crossfire, as a club, have always been competitive and successful.” Thompson told whitecapsfc.com. “We are really focused on upping our performance and adding a different dimension to our game. We will be trying different things to take into the playoffs.”
The U-16 ‘Caps have to be pleased with their season, as their 14W-5L-7D record has them atop the Northwest Division standings and in the 14th spot overall, firmly planted in the USSDA playoffs. A victory would see them secure the club's second Northwest division title at the U-16 level - both the U-16s and U-18s won the division in their first seasons in 2011-12.
The Blue and White will be looking to head into the postseason with momentum. The squad put in a strong performance in their last outing against Real Salt Lake U-16. The 'Caps controlled the play against RSL, who rank first in the West Conference, for much of the match. However, a goal against the flow of play in the 65th minute proved to be the difference, as Salt Lake rode the margin all the way to the final whistle and the 1-0 win.
Crossfire Premier sit fourth in the Northwest Division with a 13W-9L-4D record and their tenuous hold on the 11th Wildcard slot means that their playoff hopes could hinge on this match.
However, Fagan was very much in step with his U-18 counterpart, saying that the cross-border rivals aren’t to be underestimated. “Crossfire are a massive Northwest club with a history of pushing players into good university environments. They are always a difficult opponent. In terms of our preparation for them, we will approach the game like any other - we always want to do our best.”
Whitecaps FC Residency will head out to the first round of the playoffs in Westfield, Indiana. Teams will be drawn into one of eight groups of four - based on seeding - with only the winner of each group advancing to the quarterfinals. The matches will run from June 23-26 for the U-18s and from June 24-27 for the U-16s.