IRVINE, CALIFORNIA – The boys are back and ready to prove themselves.
A young and shorthanded Whitecaps FC 2 side kicked off their second USL season on the road on Saturday evening, earning an impressive 1-0 victory over last year's Western Conference champions Orange County Blues FC at Anteater Stadium.
Striker Kyle Greig scored the second-half match-winner and goalkeeper Sean Melvin came up with timely saves to record a clean sheet on his professional debut.
WFC2 were without last year's leading goalscorer in Marco Bustos, who was called up to the Canadian U-20 national team, along with teammates Marco Carducci, Kadin Chung, and Alphonso Davies. Also unavailable was last season's top assist man, Victor Blasco, who was nursing a hamstring injury.
Head coach Alan Koch featured a starting lineup with four offseason acquisitions and eight Canadians, and played seven total players who were making their Whitecaps FC 2 debut. Three teenagers saw the field for the 'Caps during the match.
Greig, who was named captain earlier this week, got things started for WFC2 on a breakaway in the 20th minute but Blues FC goalkeeper Brandon Miller dove right to make the save. Two minutes after, Greig made a nifty one-touch pass in traffic to Thomas Gardner but Miller was there again to get his fingertips on the attempt, keeping the ball outside the net and ricocheting off the post. It was one of multiple chances created by the lively Gardner, who at 18-years-old was making his first professional start.
The home side had opportunities of their own in the first half, including a 20-yard strike from Pavle Popara, but Melvin set the tone for the evening with the crucial save. Orange County was back on the attack right before the halftime whistle when Akwafei Ajeakwa drew Melvin from his position and found a wide-open Joe Baccielo, but the striker's header sailed above the empty net, as the two sides went into the locker rooms scoreless.
The young ‘Caps would not be contained for long. After Brett Levis drew a foul in Vancouver’s attacking half, Mitch Piraux neatly placed the ensuing free kick for Greig, who headed the ball into the net to put WFC2 ahead 1-0 in the 59th minute.
Orange County would try to respond with a flurry of chances. First, it was Ajeakwa launching from distance but Melvin was up to the test with a leaping save. Then, substitute Didier Crettenand found a lane of the left flank but Melvin was there again to push the shot off the post then out of danger.
Melvin added another high-flying save in the dying minutes and Dutch centre back Sem de Wit snuffed out a late Blues FC chance with a sliding clearance.
Burnaby, BC duo and Whitecaps FC Residency products Matthew Baldisimo and Terran Campbell came on as second-half substitutes. Baldisimo, 18-years-old, was also making his professional debut.
Whitecaps FC 2 are back on the road Saturday, April 2 when they visit Timbers 2 at Merlo Field. On Sunday, April 10, WFC2 host Sacramento Republic FC in their home-opener at Thunderbird Stadium.
59' – VAN – Kyle Greig (Mitch Piraux)
Shots: OCB 10 – VAN 8
Shots on goal: OCB 5 – VAN 5
Corners: OCB 4 – VAN 6
57' – OCB – Brenton Griffiths
65' – VAN – Chris Serban
83’ – OCB – Verneri Valimaa
90’+4’ – VAN – Will Seymore
Orange County Blues FC
33.Brandon Miller; 37.Roy Meeus, 25.Steven Purdy Ramos, 15.Ryan Felix (23.Brenton Griffiths 45'), 2.Jack McCracken; 6.Maurice Pluntke, 17.Verneri Valimaa (5.Nikola Ilich 84’); 10.Pavle Popara, 16.Mats Bjurman (18.Dusan Stevanovic 67’), 24.Joe Baccielo (21.Didier Crettenand 67’); 22.Gevorg Karapetya (14.Akwafei Ajeakwa 33')
Substitutes not used
1.Josh Cohen, 12.Andrae Campbell
Whitecaps FC 2
40.Sean Melvin; 55.Chris Serban, 51.Sem De Wit, 41.Jackson Farmer, 42.Jordan Haynes; 58.Will Seymore, 37.Mitch Piraux (65.Matthew Baldisimo 86’), 46.Brett Levis (61.Terran Campbell 83’), 64.Thomas Gardner (45.Giuliano Frano 67’), 56.Daniel Haber (54.Elliot Green 90’+3’); 47.Kyle Greig
Substitute not used
This year, every Tier 1 ‘Caps Club MLS membership includes three open tickets to WFC2 matches. Members can select their matches and theme days online through Account Manager. Information on theme days is available at whitecapsfc.com/wfc2/themedays.
Youth season passes are also available for $30 all in. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 604-484-7862.