McKendry kid - camps

OTTAWA, ONT. – As a young kid, Ben McKendry used to stand amongst the Southsiders with his dad as they cheered on the hometown Vancouver Whitecaps at Swangard Stadium.

“I thought that was the coolest thing,” he said.  

He remembers idolizing the likes of Martin Nash and Jason Jordan – and attending Whitecaps summer camps run by the Lenarduzzi family. Heck, McKendry was even a stretcher-bearer for the ‘Caps back in the day, an opportunity he snatched up because it helped him get closer to the field.

McKendry eventually joined the Whitecaps FC youth setup at the age of 14.

He has grown up with this club.

And on Wednesday night, the 23-year-old made his first-team debut as Vancouver Whitecaps FC fell 2-0 to Ottawa Fury FC in the first leg of the Amway Canadian Championship semifinal.

It certainly wasn't the result he wanted, but it was still a special moment for the lone Vancouverite on the club’s MLS roster. And it’s been a long time coming.

McKendry started kicking a ball around when he was four years old. He credits Jason Kyle, who lived in the neighbourhood, for getting him involved in a local spring league with other young kids at the nearby Britannia Community Services Centre located just off Commercial Drive.

That’s how it all started.

The following year, McKendry moved to New Zealand for a year with his parents, who were born there. He continued playing soccer, while dabbling with cricket and rugby. He also played hockey as a kid, like his older brother, but it came to a point where he had to make a decision.   

“I’d have hockey Saturday morning at seven or eight o’clock, then soccer right after at noon,” he said. “It was just getting to be too much. I’d be dead tired the next day, so I had to choose.”

Naturally, McKendry put two pieces of paper in a hat – one with hockey written on it and one with soccer. What better way to make important decisions?

He pulled out the hockey paper.

“That’s what I was supposed to play, but I wasn’t happy with it,” McKendry recalled. “So I was like, ‘Nope, I’m playing soccer.’”

McKendry ended up spending time with the Grandview Legion Football Club, Italian Canadian Sports Federation, Vancouver's Marpole Soccer Club, Total Soccer Systems (TSS) Academy, and Vancouver Selects before joining the ‘Caps youth setup – then named the Whitecaps FC Prospects – in 2007.  

At TSS, and initially with Whitecaps FC, McKendry played under the tutelage of Bart Chafour, the current Whitecaps FC academy centre director and head coach.

“He had a huge influence on my playing style,” McKendry said.

McKendry spent five straight years with Whitecaps FC from 2007-2012 – two with Chafour’s Prospects side and then three with the Residency program.

First-team debut the latest chapter in Ben McKendry's long journey with boyhood club -

In his final year with the Residency program, which also happened to be the club’s inaugural season in the 70-team United States Soccer Development Academy (USSDA), McKendry played a big part in the U-18s’ memorable run to the championship final, scoring in their first three playoff matches and earning a USSDA Playoffs Best XI selection by Top Drawer Soccer.

The young ‘Caps ended up falling 3-2 to FC Dallas in the final, but it remains the best season yet by a Whitecaps FC Residency side in the USSDA. Other players on the team that year included Sam Adekugbe, Bryce Alderson, and Caleb Clarke.

They each ended up getting first-team contracts. McKendry didn’t.

Not right away, at least.

Instead, he went off to college at the University of New Mexico for three seasons. He appeared in 61 of 62 matches at New Mexico, scored 14 goals, and helped lead the Lobos to two NCAA Tournaments (2012 and 2013), including the school’s second ever College Cup Final Four in 2013.

“I was fortunate to get a bunch of games and develop there,” McKendry said. “But in the back of my mind, I was thinking about coming back here and hopefully getting to a point where the club was comfortable with where I was at.”

That point came in January 2015.

McKendry was back home in Vancouver for Christmas break the month prior. He had a few conversations with the club around that time, but nothing came of it.

So he went back to school.

Then, as he was leaving a night class about two weeks later, he saw a missed call from his mom.

“So I called her back to see what was up because I thought it was kind of weird,” McKendry recalled. “She said that [Whitecaps FC VP of soccer ops] Greg Anderson had called and that they wanted to offer me a contract. That was pretty cool. I had just been in class, I thought I was going to be there another semester, but I knew right away I wanted to come back.”

Turns out the ‘Caps brass made the decision to sign McKendry – or at least settled on it – the day of the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, having identified central midfield as one position of need.

“When we evaluate any young players, especially at the draft, they have to be better than what you have,” Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson said at the time. “You don’t want them to create ceilings for any young players that you already have. So the thought process of it was that the players in the draft aren’t head and shoulders above Ben or actually aren’t better than Ben. We actually thought taking one of those players would block his pathway into the first team. So it was a no-brainer for us.”

And for McKendry.

The timing was ideal, too, as Whitecaps FC had just launched its United Soccer League team, WFC2. That’s where McKendry began his professional career.

The tidy central midfielder was a staple for WFC2 in their inaugural season, leading the team in appearances (21), starts (20), and minutes played (1,625) before suffering a meniscus tear in his left knee on July 24 – right around the time that Robinson had said he was knocking on the first-team door. A first-team debut in the CONCACAF Champions League, which began in August, had seemed likely.

Instead, McKendry was forced to watch from the sidelines.

He was supposed to only be out a month or so. It turned into seven.

“Of course it was frustrating,” McKendry said. “There's no pain associated with it. I still felt like I could run, but it would just keep swelling. It was difficult, but I think I’ve come out of it now.”

It sure appears that way.

McKendry had two goals all of last season. He has already matched that total in six appearances with WFC2 – the only unbeaten team remaining in the USL – so far in 2016.

And both tallies were of the spectacular variety.

WHAT A FINISH! @wfc2 are up 2-1 with this super strike from @ben_mckendry!

— USL (@USL) April 28, 2016

One goal in the 24th minute quickly followed by another in the 25th! And just like that, @wfc2 are up 2-0 #VANvSLC

— USL (@USL) May 29, 2016

Robinson said McKendry has made “massive strides” since signing with the first team. The ‘Caps manager has always said that McKendry has “all the tools” to be a top box-to-box midfielder – comfort on the ball, range of passing, energy, and obviously a goalscoring ability.  

That hasn’t changed.

What has changed is McKendry’s physical make-up.

“When he got injured last year, he made the decision himself with us to put on a few pounds and add to his strength,” Robinson told “The league is very competitive. To be a professional, you have to be strong and physical. He’s added that in the offseason.”

That’s the silver lining in all of this.

Without suffering the injury – as devastating as it was – McKendry said it wouldn’t have given him the opportunity to spend so much time working with the ‘Caps medical staff and trainers.

“Overall I think it’s been a good thing in terms of how I’ve learned that I need to take care of my body and do all the little things correct,” McKendry said. “It’s kind of put a chip on my shoulder too and made me appreciate every day and how quickly it can get taken away from you.”’

No one will ever be able to take away the feeling of debuting with his hometown team, however. 

“It’s definitely extra special,” McKendry said. “Obviously I’ve had to be patient for it. All of us have an ego and want to be the guy that’s getting all the minutes, scoring goals and stuff. That hasn’t necessarily been the case for me since I’ve joined the club. But I just continue to come to work each day, train hard, and try to impress the coaches … Now, I’ll just be thinking about the next game, the next training session, and what I can do to get better. I can’t just rest on one appearance.”

Wednesday was just the latest chapter in McKendry's journey with the 'Caps. 

He’s hoping there are many more to come. 

First-team debut the latest chapter in Ben McKendry's long journey with boyhood club -

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