Whitecaps FC announced on Friday a new affiliation agreement with USL expansion side Fresno FC, allowing the club's prospects a new opportunity and challenge as they work their way up to the first team.
Fresno FC general manager, and former Canada men's national team head coach, Frank Yallop sat down with whitecapsfc.com to talk about the expansion side, and how the 'Caps will benefit from the partnership.
Who are Fresno FC and what can fans expect from the team in their expansion year?
FRANK YALLOP: First and foremost, we’re going to entertain our fans. We have to get a good winning product for the fans to watch and follow. This city’s really craving a team to get behind and there’s no better sport as we know right now to get behind than professional soccer in a smaller market like Fresno. I’ve spoken in length with Carl Robinson, who’s been excellent with allowing us to do this relationship. We want to make sure we’re exciting to watch.
How will you be working with Whitecaps FC in helping their young players develop?
YALLOP: We’ll have a close relationship with the 'Caps technical staff up there to make sure their players are taken care of, and we’re both getting out of this what we need to. We'll have a number of players, and make sure that they’re good enough for us obviously, and for the future of Vancouver, that’s the whole idea of this relationship. This allows them to continue a relationship with some players but they just need a year with me or a year in USL, or find out if they’re good enough.
How is the partnership set up in terms of 'Caps players being assigned to Fresno FC?
YALLOP: They will come in the January window, and then we can reassess in June, and maybe sign other players in the next window until the end of the season. Obviously, we’d love to have the players that we do pick for the whole year, but maybe they’ve done really well with Fresno, and Carl and the first team want to pull them up to their team. I’m hoping to do a great job for Vancouver, and I know the Vancouver players coming down are excited, hungry, and ready to further their career and get more experience in professional soccer.
What are your thoughts on the Whitecaps FC youth development system?
YALLOP: It’s wonderful. I was there from the start when [WFC owner] Greg Kerfoot just joined the club, and Greg Anderson, and Bobby was there as president. They had big dreams, and I think about what they were saying in the room when we were chatting about them starting the academy, and building this club up to what it is today. If you look at what they envisioned at that time and now the infrastructure that they've built, it’s truly amazing.
How will the exposure to seasoned veteran teammates help the young players coming from Vancouver?
YALLOP: If you look at this year, Whitecaps FC 2 were mainly all young guys, and I think this is a tough league, and anytime you don’t have those seasoned professionals sprinkled in with the young guys, it’s a tough learning curve. The seasoned pro gets to rub off his experience to the young players, how to see games out, how to defend properly, and all those things, and how to really use the ball well, and express themselves and not be afraid. Seasoned pros sprinkled in with young guys is a nice mix and that’s what we’re looking to do in Fresno.
You had to move away from home as a young player as well, joining Ipswich Town FC in England as a 16-year old. How was the experience like?
YALLOP: It’s everything. You learn about yourself because you've got to get on with it, and grow up, and mix in, and fight for your position. It’s going to make them grow up quickly, make them take responsibility. This is a perfect scenario where we’re taking them out of their comfortable environment, we’ll put them into a pro team that we know we want to win, and those players are going to come along for the ride. If they’re good enough and enjoy being a professional, being away from home, living in another city, and working with full professional men, we’ll find out if they can sink or swim. I think that’s what Carl wants to find out, what these players are capable of. Some of them are going to surprise us, they're going to stand up and be counted and that’s what they need right now.
What is the philosophy for yourself and head coach Adam Smith when it comes to playing young players?
YALLOP: Basically every player on the roster has the ability to play 90 minutes every game, so I’m not looking at these guys like we’ll bring them along slowly. If they earn their right to play, then you will get a chance to play, and you can’t be any fairer than that. Nothing is given to you in this game, and it shouldn’t be. I’m excited about the young guys that we've got coming down. I’m sure we’re going to talk in a year and go "Wow, these two or three guys really took it well, they’re doing great, and here they are, one of them is in the first team." That’s the whole thing about this, we want it to work well together, we’ll find out about the young guys we’re looking to get. This is the time you stand up and get counted or you go in the other direction, but I’m excited these guys are going to come in and fight for their spots.
You've had accomplished players on your teams in the past like David Beckham and Landon Donovan. What's something you learned from them that you'll try to instill in young players?
YALLOP: If you look at those two players, they played very simple, uncomplicated soccer. It’s good, but it’s not about dribbling around and trying to impress. You've got to move the ball, you've got to be in good spots, you've got to be accountable when the other team has the ball because half of the time normally you’re defending. All those things we’re going to get to. I saw enough in the younger players that we’re going to have down here that there’s big upside to these guys and I think there’s not a better learning curve than getting on the field and earning your spot in a professional environment in front of hopefully a big crowd, and a nice stadium to play in, and a town that’s going to embrace you if you do well. It’s exciting times and I think it’s going to work out well.
Twelve months from now, what would you like to say you accomplished in the team's first year of competition?
YALLOP: Our goal is two-fold now. it’s to pack the stands, and have a playoff team. You can’t guarantee to win anything. I want to make sure we entertain these fans here, we play a great style of soccer, we bring out some youngsters, and become a real successful family together. Create a great environment for people to do well in, and I think you can ask the players that played for me, that’s what I try to create. We work hard together, we lose together, we win together, and if you get that, and some camaraderie, it’s amazing what you can do.
Fresno FC begin competition in the USL in 2018. Stay tuned to whitecapsfc.com for more news in the coming weeks.