PORTLAND, OR – Four signed teenagers, two first-teamers and two from WFC2, played for Vancouver Whitecaps FC in Wednesday’s 2-0 preseason win over Portland Timbers.
One of them was 15 – born in 2000. Let that sink in for a second.
It was a preseason fixture, so we should keep things in perspective. But there’s clearly a youth movement in Vancouver – and the early returns are quite promising.
“I think everyone’s well aware now that’s the way the club wants to go,” assistant coach Gordon Forrest told reporters. “As a coaching staff, when we look at developing players, we want to stick them out there in these kinds of games, in this kind of an environment, and in this kind of crowd as well. It’s so pleasing for us when you see young kids coming up through the program.”
They didn’t look out of place.
Leading the way were 19-year-old Whitecaps FC Residency graduates Marco Butsos and Kianz Froese – the elder statesmen, if you will. The ‘Caps put on an impressive passing display on Wednesday, in the first half especially, and these two were a big part of that.
Bustos showed some flair with a couple cheeky flicks and linked up well with the likes of Blas Pérez and Pedro Morales, while Froese impressed in a central midfield position – a day after head coach Carl Robinson suggested he may be the best box-to-box midfielder at the club.
“They’ve both worked extremely hard in the offseason,” Forrest said. “They both got themselves up to great levels of fitness, which in turn helps their performance. Both of those kids are enjoying their football and it certainly gives us things to think about for that first game.”
Bustos and Froese, who grew up in Winnipeg, have known each other for years – well before they joined the Whitecaps FC Residency program in 2011-12. That’s also around the same time left back Sam Adekugbe joined the program.
They’ve come up the ranks together and now they’re knocking on the first-team door.
“I think we all know each other’s movements and what we like,” Bustos said. “We just try to express ourselves. We’re obviously coming from the Residency so we’re trying to show how great this Residency program is. Hopefully the younger guys come up and do the same thing.”
A few of the younger guys Bustos speaks of is 15-year-old Alphonso Davies, who started on Wednesday, and 17-year-old Thomas Gardner, who entered the match as a late sub. Kadin Chung, 17, was also on the bench. All three players, who came through the Residency program, are signed to WFC2, the club’s USL side.
“They did well, they did superb,” Bustos said. “The more games they get with us, the more they’ll grow. I think they just need to come in, be relaxed, and do what they do and they’ll be fine.”
What makes this youth movement even more impressive is that it’s happening concurrently as the club chases an MLS Cup. The ‘Caps have improved their point total every year since joining the league in 2011. Last year, they finished second in the Western Conference and third in MLS.
This year, they’ve added the likes of Masato Kudo, Christian Bolaños, and Pérez, who scored on Wednesday, with the hopes of taking the club to the next level.
“It’s good to see the age of the young players but not only that, the experienced players have been brilliant with our young players,” Forrest said. “We’ve got a good mix in the changing room.”
The future looks bright – and the present does, too.