VANCOUVER, BC – That’s a wrap.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC have returned home after a 10-day preseason training camp in Tucson, Arizona that included victories over Seattle Sounders FC, New England Revolution and Houston Dynamo. Here are three things that stood out to me:
My biggest takeaway from the last 10 days?
The young guns came to play.
Whitecaps FC Residency graduate Marco Bustos, 19, made an immediate impact after returning from international duty, contributing a goal (see below) and an assist in two substitute appearances.
Like fellow Residency graduates Sam Adekugbe and Kianz Froese, Bustos has come into camp in tip-top shape – he was the second fittest player after Adekugbe in the team’s Yo-Yo test.
And he has come in with something to prove. Don’t believe it? Bustos was in the gym with Erik Hurtado at 6 a.m. on Wednesday morning before the team returned to Vancouver.
It’s not just Bustos, though.
Several youngsters impressed in Tucson. There’s right back Fraser Aird, who had a hand in both of Vancouver’s goals against Houston on Tuesday and almost scored one himself (see below).
There’s midfielder Deybi Flores, who scored a goal and looked lively in the centre of the park. There’s centre back Cole Seiler. There’s 15-year-old Residency forward Alphonso Davies. There’s WFC2 midfielder Brett Levis. And there are a few others.
The list goes on.
Of course, we can’t read too much into the preseason for various reasons. And we certainly can’t expect this sort of success to immediately translate to the regular season – there’s a long road ahead for each of these players.
At the same time, it’s hard not to get excited about the future of this club.
DEPTH, DEPTH, DEPTH
“Depth” has been the buzzword so far this preseason. You can understand why.
There appears to be a legitimate battle at nearly every position.
Up front, you have the likes of Octavio Rivero, Masato Kudo, Darren Mattocks, and potentially Blas Perez, who is with the team as a training camp invitee. On the wings, you have Christian Bolanos, Kekuta Manneh, Cristian Techera, and Hurtado fighting for two positions. At attacking midfielder, you have Pedro Morales, Nicolas Mezquida and Bustos.
It’s no different on the back line.
Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson will have some interesting decisions to make come March 6.
You get to know someone pretty well spending 10 days in the desert together.
And that’s one of the beauties of the preseason. The ‘Caps didn’t make too many changes in the offseason, but it’s safe to say the new faces have fit right in.
It helps that Bolanos already knew countrymates Kendall Waston and Jordan Smith. Likewise with Aird and his Canadian international teammates. It also helps that these are character guys.
Here’s one example.
After Tuesday’s match, a few young kids spotted the ‘Caps bus and were waiting outside for autographs. The bus was getting ready to leave. Aird noticed the kids from the back of the bus, went outside and made their day. It's the little things.
Speaking of coming together, one of the highlights of the trip was no doubt Rookie Night.
No, not because I sang “Baby” by Justin Bieber – don’t ask. It’s because this night was all about team bonding and it served its purpose. When you see Kudo jumping around trying to sing "Don’t Stop Believin'" or Perez rapping with the Spanish boys, it’s going to bring a team together.
And that’s what it did.