Whitecaps FC U-14 Residency are embarking on the biggest trip of their season as they get set to play in the Lennart Johansson Academy Trophy tournament in Stockholm, Sweden. This will be the final competition for the team before they disperse for their summer break, where the boys will be expected to stay in game shape and come back in August ready to build on the year that was.
For the U-14 squad, playing against competition of this calibre will be a terrific experience. As per head coach James Merriman, there’s nothing like playing in a tournament of this class.
“There’s so much to take out of it, there’s so much to learn. The experience they’ll get is about competing at an international competition and all the things that come with that. They also get to measure themselves against some of the best clubs in the world. Barcelona is there again this year; they won the tournament last year. But also clubs such as Inter Milan, Everton, Northern Ireland, AIK, and Club Brugge – all top teams with excellent youth academies. I think it’s the best opportunity to measure where you’re at at that age, against other professional academies.”
Whitecaps FC will have their work cut out for them as they’ve drawn into Group A versus FC Barcelona (Spain), FC Copenhagen (Denmark), hosts AIK (Sweden), and FC Kia (Iran). While the opposition will be tough, the most important aspect for Merriman is to see his young group give their all so they can see how they stack up.
“You always want to win, you always want to perform, but most important is that we compete and give that max effort that we can. I think playing to our full potential is important so you can get a proper measurement of where you’re at. The last thing you want to do is go over and give too much respect and not even compete fully, and then you walk away from it and you don’t know. So, for me it’s just to fully compete and hopefully the players can do that, and then we can really see where we are at as a team, but also individually as well.”
Every year the Lennart Johansson Academy Trophy invites the best teams from Europe and around the world, showcasing the stars of tomorrow. For the Whitecaps FC organization, getting the invitation confirms European sides have taken notice of the growing brand of football from the club. Merriman applauds the organization for giving his players the rare opportunity to go over and play the best Europe has to offer.
“I think it shows what the organization is doing for young Canadian players, getting them more experienced in international competition. We’re working to bring that football culture to the younger ages so hopefully they see the level and what the standard is. That’s only going to benefit them and help them through their development throughout the Residency program if they continue along the pathway. I think at the younger ages, the more we can get these types of experiences the better.”
Upon return to Vancouver, Merriman wants his players to take as much away from the experience as possible, and to use the matches as motivation to come back stronger when training resumes in August.