Almost there. Again.
The Whitecaps FC Residency program are one game away from competing for the 2017 U-16 Development Academy Championship.
In a league of 73 teams, and after finishing first in the Northwest Division, the U-16 boys managed to earn a spot in the final four of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Playoffs last Thursday after confidently dispatching their Cascadia rivals, Seattle Sounders FC U-16s, 3-0 at UBC’s Ken Woods Field.
A trip down south now awaits the team as they get set to face off against Atlanta United FC in the semifinals this coming Friday, July 14, at the StubHub Center soccer complex in Carson, California. Their upcoming opponents, Atlanta United, are also coming off a strong showing after defeating Bethesda Soccer Club by a 4-1 margin.
And while this unequivocally represents a golden opportunity for the Whitecaps FC organization as a whole to showcase the all-Canadian talent of this emerging talent pool of promising young players, it is also familiar territory for the club’s Residency program.
2017 will mark the third time in five years that a ‘Caps Residency team has found itself in the Development Academy semifinals, with the last two times having been in 2012 and 2016. In both years, ‘Caps teams qualified for the title match, only to fall at the final stage. And while in both those years, it was the U-18 boys who battled for the championship, it is the U-16s this time around who will be proudly dawning the Blue and White in Friday’s clash.
Winding back the clock five years ago, it was the 2012 edition of the Whitecaps FC U-18s Residency boys that fought for the title. In the club’s first year in the league, the team, under the guidance of then head coach Craig Dalrymple, saw their Cinderella story come to an end at the hands of FC Dallas at Houston’s BBVA Compass Stadium. Despite a thrilling freshman run in their first ever Development Academy Playoffs, the final score ended in a 3-2 defeat for the Vancouver side.
Now fast-forward to July 16 of last year. Once again the Whitecaps FC U-18 Residency boys were vying for the Development Academy championship and once again the ‘Caps were thwarted.
The squad had had a strong outing two days prior when they defeated Players Development Academy 4-1 in the semifinals. Current WFC2 players David Norman Jr. and Terran Campbell both contributed to the scoresheet on that day with a goal and an assist respectively.
But the trophy would once again prove frustratingly elusive for Vancouver. In a rematch of the 2012 final, the ‘Caps would lose to FC Dallas 2-1 in extra time despite having led the game for 70 minutes.
For Dalrymple, now overseeing the Residency program as technical director, this year’s run is another great opportunity to get the boys more minutes in a high-stress and high-intensity environment, which factors into achieving their main priority.
“Obviously we’re happy to go deep in the playoffs, but our ultimate goal is to produce professionals,” said Dalrymple, emphasizing that success is defined by the long-term development of Whitecaps FC youth prospects. “We pride ourselves in wanting to do well – developing a winning mentality and a winning attitude. But the results are really how many players we can actually move out of this age group into Carl Robinson’s squad – into the MLS squad.”
These are exciting times for Whitecaps FC youth development. The U-16s – a team that Alphonso Davies would still be eligible to play for – enter the semifinals of the Development Academy playoffs for the first time in their history. While a trophy may have eluded teams of old, this squad is determined to quash the ghosts of playoffs past.
“This group has a little bit more,” says Dalrymple of this year’s team. “I would say their identity is a little bit more competitive, a bit more grit in the squad. It’s full of different types of characters. They’ve gelled quite well together this season and they’re hungry.”
Will that hunger push the young ‘Caps to their third Development Academy championship Final? Tune in this Friday, 3 p.m. PT on whitecapsfc.com to find out.