VANCOUVER, BC – Some players on this year’s Vancouver Whitecaps FC U-18 Residency team have been playing together since they were nine years old.
They have grown up with this club.
Many of them were playing in their third straight United States Soccer Development Academy (USSDA) quarter-finals last week. Both of the previous two appearances with the U-16s, including last year’s defeat in a penalty shootout, ended in heartbreak.
Not this one.
The ‘Caps advanced to the USSDA semifinals with a thrilling 5-3 win over Sacramento Republic FC on Thursday at UBC, keeping their dream of winning an Academy championship alive.
“Honestly, I don’t know how to explain it,” an emotional Daniel Sagno told whitecapsfc.com after the match. “We’ve been here before and we’ve lost both times. To just make it through, and our job’s not done yet, but it’s a hell of a feeling.”
Sagno is one of 11 graduating players on this year’s U-18 squad – and that doesn’t even include the likes of Matthew Baldisimo, Kadin Chung, Terran Campbell, and Thomas Gardner, who are already signed to professional contracts with WFC2, the club’s United Soccer League team.
They’ll be pushing for even more minutes with WFC2 next season.
Moral of the story: this is likely the last time this group will ever play together – something that isn’t lost on them by any means.
“We spoke about that, a lot,” said U-18 head coach Rich Fagan. “A big motivation for them is not wanting it to end. There are guys that are going on to play pro, going on to play university, this is really their last kick of the can together. There’s a lot of sentiment around the group in that sense.”
“Most of us have been together for such a long time,” added Sagno. “We’ve been unfortunate not being able to go through. We said this is our last time together, all of us might do different things in life, we just have to play our hearts out, give it everything we’ve got, and play for each other.”
That’s exactly what they’ve done so far this season.
The U-18s, one of four teams remaining in the 74-team USSDA, are now unbeaten in a whopping 33 straight matches heading into Thursday’s semifinal vs. Players Development Academy from New Jersey (6 p.m. PT at the StubHub Center – live stream on whitecapsfc.com).
Should the ‘Caps advance, they would face either FC Dallas U-18s or Nomads SC in the championship final on Saturday.
There are some great storylines either way.
Nomads SC are the only team to have beaten the ‘Caps U-18s this year, while FC Dallas beat them 3-2 in the USSDA Championship Final during Vancouver’s first year in the league in 2011-12.
This is the furthest playoff run for a Whitecaps FC Residency team since that point.
“They wanted to get there, they’ve got there,” Fagan told whitecapsfc.com. “But we’ve accomplished nothing to this point. It’s great we got over the line, the semifinals is a massive, massive game for us and then hopefully the finals, too.”
Winning a championship isn’t necessarily the program’s goal – it’s more about developing players and pushing them on to the professional ranks and to the Canadian national team.
More than 50 Whitecaps FC Residency players have been called into Canadian youth and senior national teams since October 2013. And there are seven current Whitecaps FC Residency products who have debuted for the first-team, the most recent being 15-year-old Alphonso Davies.
That said, winning never hurts – just ask Sagno.
“If I could explain to you how that would feel man … it would honestly mean the world to me and the team as well,” he said. “It would just show how hard our team works. I can’t even explain it.”
If all goes to plan, he’ll gladly try later this week.
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