PORTLAND, OR - While the current stars of MLS were busy topping German giant FC Bayern Munich 2-1, the All-Star Week in Portland, Oregon also offered a glimpse into the league’s future.
At the Generation adidas Elite Soccer Program (ESP) Showcase, 54 of the best players from MLS Academies, including Vancouver Whitecaps FC U-16 Residency’s Thomas Gardner, David Norman, and Noah Verhoeven, were split into three sides based on geographical location (West, East, and Central) and pitted against FC Bayern Munich U-16 in a round robin tournament that ran from August 1 to August 5.
For Gardner, Norman, and Verhoeven, the tournament offered an opportunity to show their stuff against some of the best young players both in North America and across the pond. Playing for Team West, the three young ‘Caps “were among the very best” throughout the week’s matches and practices, according to their coach with the U-16 Residency squad, Rich Fagan.
In their first of three 70 minute matchups, a 1-0 loss to Team East on August 1, Gardner played the full match while both Norman and Verhoeven came off the bench for the final 30 minutes.
In their next contest against FC Bayern Munich U-16, Norman was named captain of Team West and played the entire match, while Verhoeven played 30 minutes and Gardner 20. The result was a convincing 2-0 win over the German wunderkinds.
On the tournament’s final day on August 5, Team West took down a talented Team Central 2-1, as Gardner and Norman each played 60 minutes, while Verhoeven added a tough 30.
As pleased as he was with the results of the tournament, Whitecaps FC Residency Technical Director Craig Dalrymple is even more excited about the kind of growth that this tournament can offer young players.
“This first-of-its-kind player development initiative from MLS has provided an unbelievable opportunity for rising future stars across North America,” Dalrymple told whitecapsfc.com. “Whenever the best of the best are able to train and play together, development will occur, which is the main objective of this event."
Fagan notes that, in addition to their growth as soccer players, if the experience that his players had was any indication, this kind of tournament is just as great for fostering relationships between players throughout MLS.
"This event has been a great experience for the boys,” Fagan said. “First and foremost it gave them a new platform under unique circumstances to step up and perform - which they did at every opportunity! The event was also a great social experience for them. They came to Portland only knowing each other and left today with 50 new friends."