Boys among men make promising start-The Province

Thomas Niendorf's 'kids' turning heads in Europe Marc Weber The Province Thursday, May 15, 2008 At its core, the Vancouver Whitecaps residency program is as much about kids moving out as moving in. Based on the initial interest from European onlookers at last week's INSEL-CUP junior international tournament in Germany, things are off to a promising start. "The purpose of this trip was to play some high-level competition, to profile our players to the European market, and we had a number of players that organizations showed interest in," said program director Thomas Niendorf. "Now it's a matter of following up and seeing where it goes." Niendorf, who coached the now-defunct Calgary Mustangs of USL-1 in 2004, has an extensive network of contacts in Europe, especially Germany, where he earned his professional coaching licence. He is known for helping to place current Manchester United star Owen Hargreaves with Bayern Munich back in 1997. "His credentials say a lot," said residency captain Adam Straith, a defender from Victoria. "All of us put a lot of trust in what he has to say." Niendorf expects to lose "two or three" players to European clubs this offseason, and that speaks to how well the players fared, more so than his contacts, he said. "In the end, it's not good enough to compete and be on the same level [as the European players]," he said. "We have to be better, otherwise a European club wouldn't make the effort [to sign them]." Niendorf didn't say which players had drawn interest, but Edmonton's Ghana-born Randy Edwini-Bonsu is a good bet. The 18-year-old midfielder was named tournament MVP in Germany, and Tuesday dressed for the Whitecaps against the L.A. Galaxy in Edmonton. That's another possible outcome for the residency kids -- graduating to the USL-1 side, either as a stepping stone to Europe, or perhaps a final destination. "If we feel a player has a better chance to develop through our men's team then he will stay," said Niendorf. Now the residency lads shift their focus to competing in their first USL Premier Development League season. The squad opens play this Sunday against the Abbotsford Mariners at Simon Fraser University. "It's very different to play against kids our age than to play against men," said Straith. "The PDL season is going to show us the physical standard we need to get to in order to compete at the next level." Straith said the whole experience so far has met his high expectations. "We were looking to get tools to become a professional youth player and an opportunity to show ourselves in Europe, and it's delivered," he said. - - - SEASON SCHEDULE Home games at Swangard in bold: April 12 vs. Montreal W 1-0 April 26 vs. Minnesota L 0-1 May 10 vs. Rochester W 1-0 May 13 vs. Los Angeles W 2-1 May 16 at Miami 2:30 p.m. May 19 at Montreal noon May 23 vs Seattle FSW 8 p.m. May 24 at Portland 7 p.m. May 28 at Charleston 4:30 p.m. May 31 at Minnesota 5:05 p.m. June 7 vs Portland SH 7 p.m. June 13 at Rochester FSW 5 p.m. June 17 at Montreal TBA# June 22 vs. Miami SH 7 p.m. June 25 vs. Montreal 7 p.m.# July 1 at Toronto TBA# July 5 at Rochester 4:35 p.m. July 9 vs. Toronto 7 p.m.# July 13 vs. Carolina SH 7 p.m. July 23 vs. CharlestonSH 7 p.m. July 26 vs. Carolina 7 p.m. July 29 at Miami 4:30 p.m. Aug. 1 at Carolina FSW 5 p.m. Aug. 3 at Charleston 3 p.m. Aug. 5 at Atlanta 4:55 p.m. Aug. 10 vs. Atlanta SH 4 p.m. Aug. 17 vs. Puerto RicoSH 7 p.m. Aug. 20 at Seattle 7 p.m. Aug. 22 vs. Portland FSW 8 p.m. Aug. 27 vs. Atlanta 7 p.m. Aug. 31 at Puerto Rico 3 p.m. Sept. 3 at Puerto Rico 5 p.m. Sept. 7 vs. Minnesota SH 4 p.m. Sept. 13 vs. Montreal 7 p.m. Sept. 20 at Seattle 7 p.m. * exhibition # CONCACAF Champions League FSW-FoxSportsWorld: SH-Shaw TV © The Vancouver Province 2008