I read with interest that the Whitecaps have (finally!) signed nineteen year old Aminu Abdallah after an extended and successful trial period. I saw the youngster in a pre-season friendly in Victoria and was impressed with his play. He stood out for his energy and for his height which, at 6' 3", makes him only the seventh player on the roster over that height. He is now one of nineteen players under twenty-five, one of six under 21 and one of three teenagers on the organization's roster, not counting players on loan who increase all of those numbers.
At first blush the youthful roster encouraged me as it promised growth, development and potential. On reflection however, I wonder whether it is the best option for turning VWFC into a perennial contender and, ultimately, a winner in MLS.
Watching the struggles of the likes of Darren Mattocks, Kekuta Manneh and Erik Hurtado over the past few weeks has brought home the realization that despite tons of skill, talent and potential, these young players are, in the final analysis, neophytes who will take time to learn their trade and hone their skills before they can contribute on a consistent and effective basis. We have, on the other hand, the example of the emergence of Russell Tiebert, and, to an extent, Corey Hertzog as proof of the fact that these youngsters, handled with patience and properly guided, taught and developed, will eventually mature into solid MLS talents. With Tiebert we even have the hopes of an International career in the offing.
So, my question is, will the Whitecaps have the patience to develop these youngsters into bona fide MLS players (and perhaps stars) or will the pressure to win right now force the organization to bring in more established, mature stars thus limiting the playing time available to the fledglings. Because playing time is what they need. Practice time is valuable too as is the mentoring of experienced players but in the end, time on the field is key to the development of young players. The Whitecaps already have a number of youngsters finding playing time on loan to other clubs but when you add the loaners to the mix, the pressure for time from the young bloods is going to be enormous.
Developing players also have a potential economic impact as developed players unable to find a place on the Whitecaps' roster may be attractive to other clubs and thus bring benefits such as players, draft choices, and even revenue to the organization. They would also, hopefully, provide a steady supply of capable young talent to replace players moving on from the Whitecaps through retirement, trades or purchase from other leagues.
I suspect, however, that most Whitecaps fans wont be satisfied with intangible rewards and will want to see trophies and championships coming to the club and that just may not be achievable with so many youngsters on the roster. The skill, therefore, will be in finding the balance. With Jay Demerit, Nigel Reo-Coker, Kenny Miller and Andy O'Brien as role models and mentors in the fold the side already has a good nucleus of leadership in place but is it enough to get this edition of the Whitecaps over the hump?
For those who are interested, the title of this piece comes from the poem "Crabbed Age and Youth" attributed by many (but not all) scholars to William Shakespeare which reads, in part,
Youth is full of sport, age's breath is short.
Youth is nimble, age is lame.
Youth is hot and bold,
Age is weak and cold.
Youth is wild and age is tame
The tension between youth and age has been with us since the dawn of time or, at least as this poem proves, the sixteenth century.. So has the desire of sports fans to see their team win things, almost at any cost. Can Bob Lenarduzzi, Martin Rennie et al find the balance between youth and age that will enable our beloved Whitecaps to be all things to all men?
All will be revealed in the fullness of time.