When Whitecaps FC 2 (WFC2) began play in the USL last year, the main goal was clear – to provide a proving ground for the club’s young talent.
After adapting to the professional game in their first season, a number of prospects have stepped up in 2016. A season of vast improvement extends on Friday as they play their first ever USL Cup Playoffs match on the road at Colorado Switchbacks FC (kickoff at 6 p.m. PT, streamed LIVE at whitecapsfc.com).
Among those prospects who have stepped up are two players who have earned MLS contracts this year in Alphonso Davies and Brett Levis, and four others who have been called up to the first team at one point or another with Kyle Greig, Spencer Richey, Sem de Wit, and Daniel Haber. That’s not to mention the numerous players on the MLS roster like Marco Bustos, Marco Carducci, Ben McKendry, and Cole Seiler who have been getting valuable professional minutes under their belt.
Now, they step onto another big stage in the USL Cup Playoffs with a big chance to prove themselves.
“It’s huge,” tells WFC2 head coach Alan Koch. “A USL game is a good yardstick for us to measure players, but now going and playing in a USL playoff game, that’s closer to an MLS game. The more games that we play that are close to MLS level, the easier it is for us to make an accurate assessment of the players that deserve to be kept around for next year, and the players that should be in consideration for MLS options.”
Never before have Whitecaps FC had such an opportunity to develop and evaluate young talent. Look no further than a trio of 18-year-olds from the Residency program who have played key roles on the team this season. Between Matthew Baldisimo, Kadin Chung, and Thomas Gardner, the three have combined to play in 54 USL matches this season, including 33 starts and five assists.
“Immensely proud,” said Koch after the final regular season match at Thunderbird Stadium. “I’m looking over here and I’m looking at a bunch of teenagers signing autographs. That’s an amazing experience that they’re going through and they’ve learnt a lot.”
But it’s not only teenagers contributing. A number of players in their early 20s – oddly the elder statesmen on such a young team – have grown up quickly and brought maturity to the group.
“I think what I’m the most proud of is the balance,” explained Koch. “I think there are a few older guys that have knocked on Robbo’s door this year, a Kyle Greig, and Sem de Wit – who’s really not that old at 21. I’m proud of how we’ve evolved as a group and how the individual players have embraced the opportunities they’ve been given.”
Now there is new pressure for these young players in playing a road playoff game, but not necessarily more pressure than playing at home.
“We like playing on the road, to be honest,” noted Koch. “You go away and there’s less pressure in some respects. You may play in front of bigger crowds, but the president of the club may not be there, Robbo may not be in the stands. It makes it a little bit easier for some of the young guys to go out and play. Having said that, when you play at home and the president, the vice president, the owners are watching you, you’ve got to step up. In our environment you’ve got to embrace every challenge, no matter how much pressure is placed on you.”
Another proving ground awaits on Friday, and another great opportunity for all players on WFC2.