Vancouver Whitecaps FC Residency squads have concluded their 2014 United States Soccer Development Academy (USSDA) regular season campaigns, but their biggest challenges are yet to come as they begin the USSDA Playoffs.
The first round of the playoffs will take place in Westfield, Indiana and will run from June 23-27 for the U-16 and U-18 teams. The top 32 clubs from regular season play in each age bracket qualified to play in the playoffs. From those 32 teams, eight groups of four teams were drawn at random, based on seeding.
Eight winners (one from each group) will move on to next round and, after being ranked according to their regular season points-per-game average, the top four clubs will host a quarterfinal knock-out match on either July 7 or 9. The winners of those matches will then move on to compete in the semifinals and subsequent finals, which will be held July 17 and 19 at U.S. Soccer’s National Training Center in Carson, California.
Overall, the ‘Caps fared well during the regular season, finishing with a 16W-6L-5D record in 27 matches. Their efforts were good for second place in the Northwest Division, just behind Cascadia rivals and fellow MLS academy club Seattle Sounders FC U-18. This is the third consecutive berth in the USSDA Playoffs for the U-18 team.
The 'Caps were led in scoring this season by a pair of Manitoba natives, midfielders Marco Bustos and Kianz Froese. Bustos ended up as the top scorer with 17 goals, while Froese scored 11 goals. While both players have shined in attacking roles, head coach Niall Thompson emphasized that to succeed in the playoffs, it will be on the backs of the entire squad.
“There are numerous names that we could go over," said Thompson. "Each and every player has contributed to a fantastic season and it will take everyone to continue on the right path during the playoffs."
The Blue and White learned how that path is going to begin on June 10, as they were drawn into a tough group for the first round of the playoffs. The ‘Caps will face Solar Chelsea SC U-18, Georgia United U-18, and Bethesda-Olney U-18.
Whitecaps FC could not have chosen a more varied group; Solar Chelsea, based out of Dallas, Texas, played in the Central Conference’s Frontier Division, and their 15W-7L-4D record was good for third in the conference. The team, who were led by ’96-born striker Alan Winn’s 17 goals, earned the 17th overall rank in the playoff ladder.
Meanwhile, Georgia United finished fifth in the East Conference’s Southeast Division with a 18W-13L-5D record as they snuck into the playoffs in a wildcard ranking. They landed in the 11th wildcard slot (out of a possible 13 teams).
Bethesda-Olney are without a doubt the toughest challenge in the group. Playing out of the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division, the club amassed a record of 23W-2L-0D in 25 matches. Bethesda-Olney’s remarkable record, combined with an eye-popping average of 3.68 goals for per game, helped them not only rank first their division and conference, but head into the playoffs as the top overall seed.
Despite the varied types of competition that the ‘Caps will face, Thompson is certain that Vancouver’s system, and the amount of work both the staff and players put in, will be enough to allow them to stack up with any opponent.
“I think we just have to stick with the club’s philosophy and our game plan and, again, our game plan doesn’t change,” Thompson told whitecapsfc.com. “Of course, it will change to a certain extent, in certain situations, but I think we need to focus on us, do our homework on the opposition, analyze how they play, and try to pick out how we can pick them apart.”
The first match for the U-18s, against Solar Chelsea FC, kicks off on Westfield’s Grand Sports Park Campus, Field 15, at 9:15 a.m. PT on June 23.
The younger Residency side also had a terrific regular season, winning the Northwest Division title with a 15W-5L-5D record. The team also finished 13th overall in the playoff standings.
“The effort in training, their effort every week in games, the consistency they showed from August right up until the last game of the year was a big reason why we had such a successful season,” U-16 head coach Rich Fagan told whitecapsfc.com.
Dario Zanatta, a Victoria-born striker, led the U-16 team with a remarkable 21 goals in 24 matches this season. The total was good for third overall in USSDA.
The U-16s will have to be at their best in the first round, as they take on a trio of quality opponents, including Match Fit Academy U-16, fellow MLS academy side Houston Dynamo U-16, and Weston FC U-16.
Match Fit Academy finished 5th in the Atlantic Division, but they shouldn’t be underestimated. Their 14W-7L-4D record would have been good for third in the Northwest Division. Overall, they ended up in the the 5th spot in the wildcard rankings.
Houston Dynamo parlayed a 11W-5L-11D record and a second-place ranking in the Frontier Division into a playoff berth. With the 18th slot in the playoff standings locked up, Houston are going into the playoffs a bit under the radar. Make no mistake, though, the Dynamo are a dangerous side. They're led by a young man who is arguably the best scorer in USSDA at the U-16 level, Juan Flores. With 25 goals in 27 matches, Flores was the top scorer in the USSDA this season.
Weston FC have been terrific this season, with a 23W-7L-5D record that placed them first in the Frontier Division - ahead of Houston Dynamo - and seventh in the overall playoff table. The squad has an impressively balanced roster, as three players have hit double digits in goal totals, while 18 players have at least one marker this season.
However, like his U-18 counterpart, Fagan is confident is in the squad that he has and the system his staff have put in place. As long as both of those things come together, Fagan likes their chances against anybody.
“We have a playing style from top to bottom, and we don’t plan on changing that,” Fagan said. “We want to attack, we want to score goals, we want to defend as high up the park as possible, and we want to put the opponent under as much pressure for as long as possible. I think if we can do that, then we’ll be successful.”
The first match for the U-16s, against Match Fit Academy, kicks off on Westfield’s Grand Sports Park Campus, Field 12, at 11:30 a.m. PT on June 24.