Alongside returning players from the inaugural 2015 team, the squad is joined in camp by a number of players from the Residency program, and trialists both from within Canada and around the world.
But before going into future plans, let’s take a look back at what the inaugural USL season brought:
In head coach Alan Koch’s words, the first season was a “brand new experience”.
WFC2 were among the youngest teams in USL, and that trend is likely to continue in 2016 and beyond. 22 out of the 35 players fielded were 22 years old or younger with 12 players given their professional debuts this past season.
With youth comes ups and downs. Though the squad didn’t make the playoffs in their first season, they showed plenty of promise.
“We’d like to have won a few more games than we did,” said Koch. “But you have to balance between development and trying to win games.”
The development aspect was a great success in year one. The team has quickly emerged as a terrific platform for players to make the transition from the club’s Residency program, or from college, into professional football. Playing at the USL level gives young players their first taste of life as a professional athlete while also giving them the experience necessary to progress to the first team in MLS.
Some players who have benefitted from this pathway are the club’s young Canadian talent. Striker Caleb Clarke and centre back Jackson Farmer twice represented Canada’s U-23 national team, first at the Pan Am Games, then in Olympic qualifying. Another Canadian to excel was Marco Bustos. After tying for the WFC2 lead with seven goals, he went on to make his Canadian men’s national team and MLS debuts on back-to-back nights.
Tim Parker was another one of this years’ outstanding examples. After playing the first few matches with WFC2 he was quickly called to play for the first team by Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson. The American defender went on to start 16 MLS matches, including both of the ‘Caps Western Conference semifinal playoff games.
Koch recently went on a college scouting trip in the United States. As a former long-term and very successful NCAA coach at Simon Fraser University, he used his network to watch as many talented young players as possible to prepare for January’s MLS SuperDraft.
Last year’s draft of course brought Parker to the club, and prior to that Kekuta Manneh and Darren Mattocks, so Koch’s scouting will be key to adding another wave of young talent.
BACK ON THE PITCH
In order to get a head start on 2016, WFC2 kicked off an offseason mini-camp last Tuesday in Burnaby.
“What we’re doing now here is huge,” said Koch of the training camp. “When we come back next preseason we’ll be ready for the season.”
Koch highlighted that “the core group of players has remained intact”. He added that they have had a few international players travel in to tryout with the team throughout the week.
“It’s a very mixed bag,” he added. “We’ve had a few guys from England, a couple from the Netherlands, Sweden, and Australia.”
Added to that mix are a number of young players from the ‘Caps Residency program.
“We’re continually evaluating whether it’s the right time for them to make a step up and it’s the right opportunity for them,” noted Koch of the Residency players. “We have a really great Residency program and we’re very lucky to have that as a source for players. We look there first to see if we can push players up.”
All in all, Koch already has a determined and focused group preparing for 2016. Young WFC2 players are hungrier than ever, and that can only lead to more success at the USL, MLS, and national team levels.
By Jaione Belza Guede & Emilie Rauschuetz