Vancouver Whitecaps FC made history this past weekend in Carson, California.
Carl Robinson trotted out a starting lineup that featured four Canadians – a new club record in Major League Soccer – as the ‘Caps battled to a scoreless draw with LA Galaxy
And all four of them acquitted themselves quite well.
David Edgar and Marcel de Jong, who are off to join the Canadian men’s national team for a pair of crucial 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, were both solid at the back. De Jong even earned an MLS Team of the Week bench selection after recording a game-high eight tackles and seven interceptions.
Midfielder Russell Teibert, a graduate of Whitecaps FC’s Residency program who was making his 100th MLS regular season appearance, put in another shift defensively and sprayed some nice long balls over the top, while Fraser Aird provided a spark on the wing.
The ‘Caps now have 10 Canadians on their MLS roster, or 11 if you include Sam Adekugbe who is away on loan through June 2017. That’s about a third of their roster. They’ve signed four Canadians this summer alone: Edgar, de Jong, and youngsters Alphonso Davies and Brett Levis.
From day one, the ‘Caps brass have spoken about the desire to get more Canadians into the starting lineup – if they deserve to be there. And we’re starting to see that happen.
There are a few reasons for that, according to Robinson.
One of them is simply that Canadians who were playing abroad, such as Edgar, de Jong, Aird, and even recently-signed Toronto FC forward Tosaint Ricketts, are more keen on MLS.
“I just think the Canadian players who were playing in Europe see the progression in the league,” Robinson said. “The league is progressing every year, there’s more money going into it each year, bigger players are coming across, superstars are coming across.”
For his part, Edgar said it was always his goal to come back and play in Canada.
But the growth of MLS certainly didn’t hurt.
“You see MLS growing even from over in England and abroad,” said Edgar, who spent over 10 seasons in England. “We get games on TV over there on Saturday and Sunday nights. It’s much talked about. And it was always in my plan to come back. When the opportunity came up, it was too good to turn down.”
Another reason for the recent increase in Canadian players on MLS rosters is that their USL clubs are starting to pay dividends. Davies and Levis, for example, both impressed with WFC2 before getting their opportunity with the first-team. Davies came through the Whitecaps FC Residency program, while Levis took the road less travelled, attending the University of Saskatchewan.
Would they be where they are today without the USL?
Maybe. Maybe not.
“Let’s make this clear,” Robinson said of Levis’ addition last week. “Since he’s come into the program, he’s deservedly earned his spot on the MLS roster. It’s not a PR stunt. It’s because the kid has been the best [WFC2] player this season.”
Clearly, the development of Canadian soccer remains important to Whitecaps FC.
After all, the club’s Residency program and vast Academy Centre network across the country is designed to grow the game in Canada and help develop players not only for the Whitecaps FC first team but also the Canadian national teams. It’s a philosophy the club takes pride in.
The key, now, is to balance that vision with the ultimate goal of winning.
“The club model is we want to develop young players, without losing the fact that the game is about winning games of football,” Robinson said earlier this year. “It’s about finding the balance of development, giving chances, and winning.”
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