The Vancouver Whitecaps are rightly renowned among North American soccer gurus for their academy program, the Vancouver Whitecaps Residency. Canadian internationals Adam Straith and Randy Edwini-Bonsu count themselves alumni, as do former Canadian U-20 player of the year Ethan Gage, U-17 players of the year Russell Teibert and Bryce Alderson, and a host of quality professionals around the world such as Alex Semenets, Kyle Porter, Paul Hamilton, Luca Bellisomo, and Simon Thomas.
For most of their history the centrepiece of the Residency program has been their team in the United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League. Pitting teenagers against players sometimes five years older, the Residency's on-field results in USL PDL have been mixed but there have been some successes: a USL PDL playoff semi-final run in 2008 and a near-dash into the highly competitive Northwest Division playoffs this past season.
Today, the Residency also competes in the United States Soccer Development Academy U-18 and U-16 leagues, with both teams set to play in the USSDA Showcase in Florida starting tomorrow morning. However, the PDL team (leavened with professional veterans such as Philippe Davies and Alexandre Morfaw) remains the highest level of developmental soccer in Vancouver.
A trip to a Residency game means good soccer, knowledgeable fans, and a free ticket. It's a great, cheap way to see good soccer and I enjoyed almost every game I went to this summer. But it's also a chance to evaluate the future of the Vancouver Whitecaps; indeed, of the Canadian national team.
Today, rather than my own amateur scouting, I'm going to let the numbers do the talking. After the jump, the Whitecaps Residency's statistical leaders from the past USL PDL season, along with my own reflections on what those numbers show.
|2011 Whitecaps Residency Minutes Played and Scoring Leaders|
I'm not going to pass too much judgment on these statistics; most of them speak for themselves. USL PDL's scorers seem pretty stingy with assists and I can recall occasions when I might have awarded an assist but the game sheet subsequently did not; that probably explains why the Whitecaps Residency as a team recorded thirteen official assists all season.
19-year-old centre back Derrick Bassi and left back La'Vere Corbin-Ong were obviously omnipresent in the team this season; PDL captain Bassi played every minute of the Whitecaps' first thirteen matches before being substituted out at the 81st minute on July 16 in Kitsap. Declan Rodriguez and Daniel Stanese also both recorded over 800 minutes in what was a fairly static defense for Richard Grootenscholten. Only Tim Hickson, who split time between defense and midfield, really threatened to break in: other promising players like Adam Polakiewicz saw only marginal playing time.
|2011 Whitecaps Residency Scoring Rate Leaders (minimum 500 minutes)|
|Goals/90 Minutes||Assists/90 Minutes||Goals + Assists/90 Minutes|
|Player||Born||Min||G||G/90||Player||Born||Min||A||A/90||Player||Born||Min||G + A||G + A/90|
In case it wasn't obvious, the USL PDL is not a teenager's league. Overage players like Philippe Davies and Alexandre Morfaw ruled the roost, picking up strong points-per-90-minutes totals despite playing out of midfield. If I had allowed players with fewer than 500 minutes onto the list you'd have seen some real dominance, headlined by Long Tan's 5 goals in 341 minutes (or 1.32 goals per 90 minutes). Michael Nanchoff, Wes Knight, even Cornelius Stewart: there's a number of 20-and-over players with gaudy scoring rates but just not enough minutes to get onto this list.
Caleb Clarke and Ben Fisk's totals are pretty impressive in this context. Clarke's goals-plus-assists per 90 minutes of 0.490 and Fisk's of 0.472 are very good numbers: to give you some perspective, Camilo Sanvezzo this past MLS season recorded 0.471 goals + assists per 90 minutes. Both Fisk and Clarke are forwards, although Fisk spent some time on the wing, so you'd expect them to produce: still, the numbers they put up against men four, five years older than them are inspiring.
Clarke's team-leading statistic snuck up on me. I admit that, watching him, I never really rated Caleb Clarke; then again, as I think back he did seem to make a lot of passes that weren't flashy but were clever. He never did much that would get him on the highlight reel or post the sort of YouTube-quality moments that would convince you he's a future professional, but on the other hand the offense did seem to follow him around the field.
As a sidenote, Clarke is terrorizing the USSDA U-18 division right now... but more on that another day.
As the sole 1994-born player to crack this ranking, Yassin Essa deserves a mention. He's a quick, dynamic winger who was mostly used as a substitute. However, Essa came on in the second half: he saw 141 minutes prior to July 1 and 382 minutes in the seven remaining games. It's his misfortune to be on a team that's deep down the wings, and he honestly isn't as good as "leading the USL PDL team in goals per 90 minutes" makes him sound, but he was behind only Bryce Alderson and Daniel Stanese as the best '94 on this past summer's team.
|2011 Whitecaps Residency Goalkeeping Statistics|
|Goals Against Average||Save Percentage|
Brian Sylvestre, holder of a Major League Soccer contract and United States U-20 international, was expected to be the Whitecaps Residency's starter most of the USL PDL season. However, injury limited the big Californian's availability so the bulk of the starts fell to 18-year-old Callum Irving, a graduate of the Whitecaps U-16 Prospects program. Irving played well in three 2010 USL PDL games after Canadian U-17 international Richard Causton struggled before being replaced by former CSL Goalkeeper of the Year Dan Pelc.
Irving has a way of falling into starting jobs but he's made the most of them. Irving's supposedly too small to be a goalkeeper but, this past year, his numbers were highly competitive with the older, taller, and more highly-touted Sylvestre's despite Sylvestre having the advantage of playing only one of his five games on the road (and that was just in Abbotsford). In the high-scoring USL PDL Irving's statistics look pretty good for an 18-year-old.
This isn't to bash Sylvestre (I don't know anything about goalkeeping but I know some guys who do and boy do they like the kid) or to overlook 17-year-old Victoria native Sean Melvin (whose numbers aren't too attractive but is a big kid who's learning fast; hopefully a serious knee injury suffered in the first home game of the Whitecaps U-18 season won't set him back too far). It's just to say that, very quietly, Callum Irving had an excellent 2011 USL PDL season. The 6'0" kid has been given the reins early in Vancouver's U-18 campaign and has carried the mail admirably; here's hoping he continues to beat the odds. It certainly looks like the Whitecaps have two promising young keepers in the fold.