On Tuesday, Vancouver Whitecaps FC and the Alberta Soccer Association announced an expanded partnership in the Whitecaps FC BMO Academy System. It’s a pipeline that has grown over the last decade. This is the story of three boys players who moved from Alberta into the Whitecaps FC BMO MLS Academy in Vancouver.
Finn Linder (pictured right, on left) started playing soccer with them at the age of eight.
In a year that has been full of separation due to COVID-19 – one where they have moved away from their Calgary, Alberta homes for the first time – it’s helped the now 16-year-olds to have each other as familiar faces in the Whitecaps FC BMO MLS Academy.
“School is a lot different,” noted Linder. “In Calgary I had lots of my friends there, but school here is more focused on schoolwork. Then I get to go and have fun with friends at training, which is awesome because we all have a collective goal to get to the next level.”
PATHWAY TO OPPORTUNITY
The trio started playing together at Calgary Blizzard before being selected to the Regional Performance Centre (RPC) program. Through the partnership between Whitecaps FC and the Alberta Soccer Association, the three players joined the BMO Alberta Academy Centre under the tutelage of now ‘Caps U-17 MLS Academy head coach and technical coordinator Ricky King.
The group was primarily U-16 boys born in 2002 and 2003, but with the talent that they demonstrated the younger 2004-born Antoniuk, Fuerst, and Linder were welcomed in.
“It was by design to bring them in early,” recalled King. “They were quite quiet playing with older players, but they didn’t show any hesitation on the field. They kept their heads down, worked hard, and were very driven in their own ways. That also really helped in their maturity.”
“It was definitely tougher, especially because we were playing against older players,” remembered Antoniuk. “We trained every day, compared to our club team where we weren’t training every day.”
The following year, as King left for Vancouver, current BMO Alberta Academy Centre head coach Ewan Fisher took the reigns in Calgary.
“First of all I was struck by how good all three were with the ball,” remembers Fisher. “But I think what impressed me most was their perseverance.”
Their later years in the Alberta program became a role reversal. With the cycle continuing to bring forward younger players, they became the more experienced bunch.
“They introduced younger guys, so at that point it was focused more for us on getting showcased in Vancouver,” added Antoniuk.
They came to Vancouver no less than five times for high performance events, showcases, and evaluations. They made their final trip last spring, just prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, and two months later they received the news they had long desired – a selection to the BMO MLS Academy in Vancouver.
“I was pretty excited,” tells Fuerst. “I worked for a long time and after all the trips, it was great to see that it paid off.”
ADJUSTING TO THE MLS ACADEMY
So far the transition has seen them all progress positively since moving to Vancouver in September, according to high potential player head coach Rich Fagan.
“These kids, coming from outside of Vancouver and living away from home, they have to have a different maturity level. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that they just have different responsibilities.”
While adjusting to living with a billet family and studying amongst a pandemic-restricted school set-up, they have excelled with the ‘Caps during their time on the pitch.
Linder, one of the taller lads for his age group, has played as a centre back in a 3-4-3 formation.
“He’s never really stressed,” explained Fagan. “He always kind of finds the right moment at the right time. I don’t think I’ve seen him sweat yet. That’s not to say he’s not trying hard, he’s just cool as a cucumber. We kind of count on him for quarterbacking the build-up. He definitely has a mind for the game.”
Fuerst has been playing in central midfield as a number six.
“Brennen is very reliable. He sits in front of the back three or four and protects, distributes. He’s very calm as well and has improved immensely.”
Antoniuk is a creative attacking player, much like his brother Owen who has been in the MLS Academy since 2018, now plays on the U-23 squad, and has been a part of the recent group training with the first team.
“They’re very similar in terms of the way they play. Will’s mental and tactical awareness is very good.”
GOALS FOR THE FUTURE
Like their peers and dozens of other aspiring youth, all three players have a desire to reach the professional level. To get there, they know that they will need to continue to improve and follow the club’s cornerstones of team spirit, work ethic, discipline, and mentality.
“I once read that Tony Kroos went something like 13 games without missing a pass,” remarked Linder. “I try to be a perfectionist. I think that’s how the game should be played.”
As far as inspiration goes, they have not needed to look far.
“I remember meeting Alphonso Davies when we came to Vancouver,” recalled Linder. “It’s just cool to see that we’re on the right path.”
“I think that’s pretty motivating,” added Antoniuk. “Also with Damiano [Pecile] and some of my brother Owen’s friends. It feels a lot closer and more reachable because they’re right there.”
Shorter term, the Albertans would like to get on the radar for Canada’s U-17 men’s national team.
That has proven more difficult this year with the inability to travel or participate in training camps, but Fagan believes all three deserve a shot once normalcy resumes.