VANCOUVER, BC - Heading into the holiday season, Vancouver Whitecaps FC Residency are getting a couple of early presents: a chance to escape the Canadian cold for a few days, and a shot to cement their status among the very best in United States Soccer Development Academy (USSDA).
The ‘Caps Residency sides will head down to the Premier Sports Complex in Bradenton, Florida, where they will take part in the USSDA Winter Showcase, a competition in which each USSDA squad will play three matches from November 29 to December 3. Stay tuned to whitecapsfc.com for complete coverage.
The flurry of games will mark the beginning of the winter hiatus for USSDA, as, the ‘Caps won’t resume their regular season schedule until January 17.
Entering the USSDA Winter Showcase with a perfect record and the top billing in the USSDA standings, Whitecaps FC U-18 Residency (11W-0L-0D) are used to teams chasing them.
However, that chase is going to get exponentially more challenging in Bradenton. The ‘Caps will open the competition against Eastern Canadian rivals Montreal Impact (8W-0L-2D) on Saturday, and follow that up with a showdown against fellow MLS foes New York Red Bulls (8W-0L-2D) on Sunday, meaning that the ‘Caps will square off against not one, but two of the other three undefeated teams remaining in USSDA. The Blue and White will finish off their schedule against Players Development Academy (6W-2L-4D) on Tuesday.
"It’s the perfect time for us to meet these teams,” said head coach Niall Thompson. “It’s a great opportunity for the squad to show just how much they’ve progressed this year. The level of competition in Florida is going to give us an excellent gauge of where we’re at, and I think that, going into this, you want these big games, you want to play the top teams, you want to play Montreal, New York, and PDA because they’re quality sides. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
The ‘Caps are coming into the showcase having not allowed a goal in three straight matches, which consist of wins over Santa Cruz Breakers Academy, Juventus Sport Club, and San Jose Earthquakes. The streak goes back to a 71st-minute goal against De Anza Force on October 24, totaling 289 minutes. The recent stretch has bumped up their total of clean sheets to six on the season.
However, as good as their play in their own end has been, the Blue and White’s offence has been their calling card all season. The ‘Caps are currently averaging 3.91 goals-per-game , the highest average in USSDA. With skipper Marco Bustos (13 goals in nine games) and striker Dario Zanatta (12 goals in 11 games), Whitecaps FC are the only squad to possess two players who are scoring at over a goal-per-game rate.
Having played without them for the past two games, the ‘Caps will get some reinforcements for the showcase, as goalkeeper Marco Carducci, defender Jordan Haynes, and midfielders Bustos and Kianz Froese are set to return from their training spells overseas in time for the first contest against Montreal.
The foursome should be coming in with considerable confidence, as earlier this month, they helped Canada’s U-20 side to a 2W-0L-1D record in a set of friendlies against England, Russia, and the United States.
Sitting in the sixth spot in the overall league standings, Whitecaps FC U-16 Residency (8W-1L-2D) have the opportunity to stake a claim as the best of their age group at the USSDA Winter Showcase.
Opening the competition on Sunday, the ‘Caps U-16 side will face Colorado Rush U-16 (5W-1L-0D), who are directly above them in the standings at fifth overall. Though they’ve only scored eight goals through six games, Colorado has shown the ability to win close games, as they’re an impressive 4-1 in games that are decided by one goal. They’ve also demonstrated stifling defensive play, not allowing more than one goal against in any single match this season.
Next, the ‘Caps will turn their focus to New York Red Bulls U-16 (9W-0L-1D), who sit atop the USSDA table. New York has been dominant at both ends of the pitch (averaging 3.2 goals-per-game and only allowing 0.9 goals-against-per-game) and will provide the toughest test of the season for the young ‘Caps in their Monday matchup.
The ‘Caps will close out the whirlwind schedule with a game against Montreal Impact U-16 (4W-4L-2D) on Wednesday. Another Canadian MLS Academy side, the Impact are currently sixth in the Northeast Division and are currently mired in a goalless streak that spans back to the 76th minute of a 3-3 draw against Continental FC DELCO U-16 on October 26, totaling 284 minutes.
Like the U-18s, head coach Rich Fagan’s U-16 side is not only looking forward to facing some of the best that USSDA has to offer, they’re feeling good about their chances going in.
“The boys are really excited about the draw and they’re looking forward to the challenge,” said Fagan. “Playing these types of games, that’s what it all about. I think we would have been disappointed if we got a lesser draw. I imagine we’ll matchup well. As a staff, we’re confident in the players that we have and what they’re capable of doing. All three games are going to be exciting, for us and the players.”
The ‘Caps have excellent reason to be confident in the squad they have. As part of their Northwest Division-best record this season, the U-16s have shown a remarkable ability to come from behind to earn points – they boast a 3W-1L-1D record when conceding the first goal. Equally impressive is the depth of scoring that the U-16 side possesses - the Blue and White are tied for second in the league with 12 different players who have scored a goal (behind only FC Golden State U-16 at 13).