VANCOUVER, BC - Vancouver Whitecaps FC Residency squads will kick off their 2014-15 United States Soccer Development Academy (USSDA) campaign this weekend with a pair of home matches at Simon Fraser University’s Terry Fox Field.
Both the U-18s and U-16s will host Seattle Sounders FC Academy on Saturday (1 p.m. PT kickoff for the U-18s, followed by the U-16s at 3:30 p.m. PT), before taking on San Juan Soccer Club on Sunday (10 a.m. kickoff for the U-18s, followed by the U-16s at 12:30 p.m. PT).
Last season, Whitecaps FC U-18 Residency finished with a 16W-6L-5D record, good for second in the Northwest Division and a berth in the USSDA playoffs. In the playoffs, the Blue and White fought their way to the final match of the group stage before falling to regular season champions Bethesda-Olney U-18 in the final contest.
The U-18s won’t be short on experience, as nine players are returning from last season’s squad. In addition, another nine players have been promoted from the Residency program’s U-16 side, while two brand new players have been added for the upcoming season.
Even after just a few weeks of practice, the new mix of players is already starting to gel.
“For the guys that have moved up from U-16, it’s more about adjusting to the physicality and the speed, which they’re doing so far,” said head coach Niall Thompson. “To this point, the team is gelling very well and we’re just looking forward to the big test on Saturday against Seattle.”
Last season, the ‘Caps dropped two close matches against Seattle, falling 2-1 on October 19 2013, and 3-2 on May 10, 2014.
“We look at it as a chance to redeem ourselves,” said Thompson. “Our performances from last year are in the back of our minds. It’s a great rivalry to start the season with and I think it plays on you a little bit, but we just have to focus on our game.”
Whitecaps FC topped San Juan Soccer Club U-18 twice in 2013-14, winning 3-1 in last year’s season opener and blanking them 1-0 on October 20, 2013.
“San Juan is going to be another tough side,” said Thompson. “They’re a good club, with a great history. We have an idea of how they play and they’re style, and of course, we have a game plan for them when we face them. Overall, it’s going to be a tough, competitive game.”
The U-16s finished on top of the Northwest Division in 2013-14 with a 15W-5L-7D record. With a division-leading 61 goals, the ‘Caps scored their way into the USSDA playoffs, where they kept up their winning ways in the group stage. Whitecaps FC defeated Match Fit Academy U-16, another MLS academy in Houston Dynamo U-16, and Weston FC U-16 en route to their first-ever berth in the USSDA quarter-finals.
Though they fell to Chicago Magic PSG U-16 in the quarters, and even with a decent amount of roster turnover this season, head coach Rich Fagan believes the experience will be a valuable asset for the upcoming year.
“Well, it’s a different squad,” Fagan said. “However, the players that remain with us from last year have a lot more confidence and a lot more experience, and that’s something I would expet them to pass on to the younger players that we’ve brought in.”
Last year, the ‘Caps went toe-to-toe with Seattle Sounders FC U-16 twice, dropping a 3-0 decision at home on October 19, 2013. When they faced Sounders FC in Washington on May 10, 2014, the ‘Caps earned a hard-fought point in a 2-2 draw.
“The fact that it’s our local rival, it’s our closest MLS rival, there’s always a little bit more in it,” said Fagan. “The players have been talking about it all week in training and I know that they’re excited and up for it. The new guys have never played in that type of atmosphere before, so I’m sure they’re a little bit nervous, but they’re excited and ready to play.”
San Juan Soccer Club U-16 and the ‘Caps U-16 squad tangled twice last season. In their first match on September 12, 2013, the Blue and White traveled down to California and dominated in a 3-0 shutout win. On October 20, 2013, the two sides played to a 1-1 draw in Bellingham, Washington.
“Last year, we played two good games when we played them,” Fagan. “I would expect that there’s a little bit of excitement from them and it’s a game that they’re up for, especially considering that we’re an MLS side. I expect a tough game from them.”