What's this? Canadian international Marcus Haber turning out for the Vancouver Whitecaps? But everyone knows Vancouver doesn't develop Canadians! (Benjamin Massey/Eighty Six Forever)
The Vancouver Whitecaps get a bad rap for not developing Canadian talent. This is because they haven't played any Canadians in Major League Soccer this year, unless you count Alain Rochat which you shouldn't.
This is ill-informed and stupid.
While the Whitecaps' lack of Canadian content on the first team in 2012 is annoying, it's just one page in a very long story. Yet it's the page which defines the narrative: "the Whitecaps don't develop Canadians", "I prefer Toronto FC because at least they help Canadian soccer", etc. ad nauseum. The millions of dollars per year the Whitecaps spend developing almost exclusively Canadian U-18 players who turn out for Canada's youth squads in unmatched numbers, the fact that the team brings many of those young talents into the first team for training, and the fact that the Whitecaps are currently running over MLS's minimum Canadian quota gets forgotten in favour of "if I can't see it on TV it's not happening.
I have my quibbles with the Whitecaps development policies, I think the team could be using some of its first-team Canadians better than they are, but that doesn't mean I'm not sick to death of this ridiculous story that prioritizes playing one 30-year-old midfielder over developing four 18-year-old ones. Even neutral observers not motivated by envy or partisanship are buying into it simply because it's so common among the ignorant chattering classes.
Saying the Whitecaps "don't develop Canadians" based off a larger-than-the-league-minimum number of Canadians not getting MLS playing time in a season and a half is such a narrow view it barely qualifies as a view at all, to say nothing of the impact the organization has made in the past and the Residency is making right now.
If people are going to throw around an ignorant narrative then I reserve the right to correct them. So I'm going to look at ten Canadians who learned their soccer from the Vancouver Whitecaps, have moved on, and are current important parts of the Canadian national team setup. Players of all ages and positions in a variety of countries. Without regarding the Residency crop; these are just players who are delivering for Canada now and in the future thanks in no small part to the Vancouver Whitecaps.
The biggest name in the Canadian national setup who came through Vancouver is unquestionably starting goalkeeper Lars Hirschfeld. Hirschfeld, a native of Edmonton, got his first fully professional game as a member of the Whitecaps in 2001 after spending time with the USL PDL Calgary Storm. But he doesn't count, really; that game was the only one he played for the Whitecaps and he was soon back with the A-League Storm for the 2002 season. That first chance is an important one but, still, he's Calgary (and Cottbus)'s boy: I just didn't want any of you to say I'd forgotten him.
Another Edmontontian, Randy Edwini-Bonsu, is probably the best Whitecaps Residency product playing in Europe today. Edwini-Bonsu only took to serious soccer late in his childhood after emigrating from Ghana but that didn't stop Residency boss Thomas Neindorf, enchanted by his speed and finishing touch, from taking a chance on the diminuitive striker. A good chance it was. Edwini-Bonsu was a star of the USL PDL Whitecaps under Neindorf, had trials in Europe, was outstanding for the Canadian U-20 team and earned his first senior cap at only twenty years old.
Then-Whitecaps boss Teitur Thordarson never really took to Edwini-Bonsu, but he still played 32 league matches over three seasons with the Whitecaps first team before being released when the team was moving into Major League Soccer. Those of us who've seen what fellow speedster Darren Mattocks could do in MLS are still shaking our heads over that decision, but it served Randy well: after one (glorious) summer in Finland he's currently playing for Eintracht Braunschweig of the German second division and should surely be returning to Canada's senior national team sooner rather than later.
Marcus Haber never played for the Whitecaps Residency but he still owes his current career progress to Vancouver. A big striker often mis-used as a centre back in his youth, Haber spent time in the Pacific Coast League with the Whitecaps Reserves in 2006 but moved overseas, training with FC Groningen in the Netherlands and never breaking through. He returned to his home of Vancouver after that and promptly caught on with the Whitecaps. His return, alongside another Canadian international in Charles Gbeke, was a great success: he scored eight goals and was an effective distributor for league scoring leader Gbeke. It was enough to cause West Bromwich Albion to pay a surprising transfer fee to get him, and while Haber never got into the Baggies lineup, he now toils for Stevenage in League One and has made three appearances for his country. Would he be doing so well if the Whitecaps hadn't taken a chance on a local boy they knew had potential?
Adam Straith, with eleven caps at 21 years old, also got his start with the Whitecaps. While he never played in a first team game with Vancouver, he spent three years in the Whitecaps Residency program learning the ropes from Neindorf and company. The Whitecaps shopped him abroad, including a German trial of the sort Caleb Clarke would become familiar with, and eventually sold him off to Energie Cottbus. In spite of a promising start he's currently in the 3. Liga with 1. FC Saarbrücken, but with his age and skill he's probably not long for that level.
Mason Trafford is a less-recognized name, although you should get to know it. The 25-year-old hasn't appeared for his country but he's entering his third season with Finnish first division club IFK Mariehamn. He, too, is a Whitecaps Residency grad, and joined the first team for the 2008 and 2009 seasons, winning the 2008 USL First Division championship. Decently-sized guys with soccer brains who can play multiple defensive positions, like Trafford, are at a premium sometimes for Canada; I'd be surprised if he didn't see a senior national team roster one of these years.
Goalkeeper Julien Latendresse-Levesque is a long-time Canadian U-20 international currently toiling with Energie Cottbus. He plays regularly for their reserve team in the German fourth division and is considered one of their brighter prospects after recovering from a serious wrist injury; do I even need to mention that he got his start with the Whitecaps Residency and his time with Cottbus was arranged by the Whitecaps? He's considered one of Canada's goalkeepers of the future.
Those aren't all the former Whitecaps currently plying their trade in Europe, of course; merely the important ones. Chris Pozniak is a former Canadian international. Alex Elliot and Robbie Tice just represented their country at the CONCACAF futsal championships, playing credibly. I won't bore you by going on; old Whitecaps have made their mark in a bevy of leagues around Europe and continue to impact the Canadian national team.
Of course many former Vancouver Whitecaps are scattered around North America as well; here, out of respect for readers so patient they have gotten this far, I'll be brief. Four Whitecaps Residency graduates are playing for FC Edmonton in the North American Soccer League: star defender Paul Hamilton, right back Antonio Rago, and forwards/attacking midfielders Kyle Porter and Alex Semenets all came through the Residency. If you're curious, no former
TFC or Montreal Academy players are on Edmonton's roster, although David Monsalve and Kevin Hatchi did play for Toronto and Montreal briefly (Correction, 12:08 PM July 20: Thanks to @aljarov on Twitter for pointing out that FC Edmonton's Dino Gardner is a Toronto FC Academy alumnus. Gardner has not yet made his Eddies first team debut).
Hamilton vies with Shaun Saiko as FC Edmonton's best player. Rago should be a regular starter; neither of them have had much attention from the Canadian national team program in the past but certainly should going forward. Porter and Semenets both played for Canada's youth and, while they're not getting as much playing time with Edmonton these days, were among the highest-rated prospects in the country while in the Whitecaps fold.
Another Residency graduate, Philippe Davies, recently signed with the Richmond Kickers of USL Pro. It's probably just a temporary stop for Davies, who drew a lot of attention after a good Olympic qualifying campaign for Canada and capped ten times for the U-20s. There are reports he's drawn interest from Scandinavia, and nobody who's seen him play thinks that his career ends in the North American third division.
So yeah. I'd say the Whitecaps have managed to develop a Canadian or two.