'Caps U-15, U-17 sides take lessons from return to competitive MLS NEXT academy action

GA Cup 2

Back in April, Vancouver Whitecaps FC's U-15 and U-17 BMO MLS boys academy teams made the trip to Frisco, Texas to participate in the annual Generation adidas Cup.

Both teams competed in a total of three matches at the tournament, featuring several of the world's top youth teams.

The U-15s played matches against Chicago Fire, LAFC and Mexican side Club Leon, while the U-17s took on Mexican club Monterrey, NYCFC and New York Red Bulls in their matches.

The GA Cup was the first bit of tournament action the young 'Caps had seen in the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which allowed both U-15 head coach Dan Fairhurst and U-17 head coach Scott Howey to analyze their respective teams in a competitive environment.

"It was a really, really good experience, the boys enjoyed it, they learned a lot, I learned a lot as well," recalled Fairhurst. "It just made us sort of hungry for more competitions, more games and it really showed what we need to work on to improve and that we can compete when we're organized and we work hard."

"We were playing local competition [before returning to MLS academy competition], which was great to help get us ready but we knew the intensity level was going to increase, we knew that the tactical IQ and the technical ability of the teams we went up against was going to be much higher," explained Howey. "So it was nice to get that test. It was exactly what we needed and what the players needed to see what they've been missing and really remind them what the level is like."

In addition to playing the matches, the tournament also served as a great experience for the players off the pitch, as they travelled and went through routines much like professionals do on the road.

From going through proper recovery, eating the right food to getting the right amount of sleep, the whole experience helps the players manage themselves in the best way possible as they continue to strive towards their dreams of reaching the professional stage.

"It's really important because it shows them what the level is like and what it would be like as they progress on. For some players, it actually can be too hard and they realize themselves that it's too much of a challenge, but some players adapt to it and they really love it and it just prepares them for the future, so that's a really important aspect as well," said Fairhurst.

"It's enjoyable as a coach because you get to spend a lot of time preparing the players, helping the players with recovery. And you actually get a lot accomplished in the days and weeks when you're away, because you have more time with the players as well. You've got to manage the younger players more. So that's that's a challenge but it's a good challenge as well."

Both Fairhurst and Howey will take away plenty of positives from the GA Cup as they continue their respective seasons.

The U-17s had the opportunity to take part in a second tournament, the MLS NEXT Flex for a chance at qualifying for the playoffs, coming up just short in their group.

Now both sides will look to finish off their MLS NEXT season on a high with a set of matches against Western Conference opposition, followed by the showcase tournament at the end of June.

Howey looks at it as a great opportunity to continue their development with competitive matches.

"It's great to be back into it. The last time some of these guys had games was U-15, some of the guys have been in the program through U-16, U-17 and now they're just starting to get a taste of what it's really like. So to play tough opposition again is the thing we've been missing."

"We're excited, for the guys to go out and perform like they're capable of. I feel really positive about it and ultimately, we're looking for a good performance and the results will take care of themselves."