Youth has long been promoted as an integral part of Carl Robinson's coaching philosophy and through 2015 that sense of belief in the stars of tomorrow will become abundantly clear. No team in Major League Soccer harbour more homegrown products than the eight on the Vancouver Whitecaps roster at present and many of this talented group are beginning to pay dividends. From vice-captain Russell Teibert to new first choice left-back Sam Adekugbe, the investment in the academy is reaping rewards at a senior level and that trend looks set to continue with the addition of WFC2. USL plays host to a plethora of MLS-owned franchises and the flexibility of the loaning system between the two opens many doors otherwise left bolted shut for the clubs battling for success in the top flight. As reflected by the side's position at the top of the Supporters' Shield standings coming into May, the Blue and White are determined to achieve unprecedented feats in the Western Conference and will look to do so with some help from a number of promising, albeit inexperienced, youngsters this year.
It's well-documented that the Caps have fierce competition across the entire squad for minutes this season and the merits of that require no further elaboration. This widespread quality is something worth celebrating and now there is similar incentive for optimism in Alan Koch's ranks at Thunderbird Stadium. Namely, and most particularly, at right-back between Ethen Sampson and Jackson Farmer for the starting role in USL and for the back-up role to Steven Beitashour. Sampson has some momentum in his favour after impressing against FC Dallas in last term's playoff encounter at Toyota Stadium, however has by no means locked up the second spot in the depth chart yet. Sounders 2 attacker Darwin Jones tormented the Mitchells Plain, South Africa native nightmares throughout the ninety down at Starfire Stadium and a few matches later he was dismissed against Orange County Blues. This was rather disappointing, but one man's loss is another man's gain and Farmer has met expectations in his place. Beita has appeared in every game this season to this point and such heavy action will eventually take its toll on the former San Jose Earthquakes defender's health and performance. Hopefully one of the options in reserve can follow in Adekugbe's footsteps replacing Jordan Harvey and fight for a place in Robbo's line-up regularly.
Deybi Flores comes from very humble beginnings and his journey from the streets of Honduras to the similarly concrete surface at BC Place is nothing short of inspirational. He's familiar with adversity and is equipped for the fight for a spot in the congested Whitecaps engine-room even at the tender age of eighteen, determined to make the most of this chance to excel in the North American game. Flores boasts exceptional athleticism, relentlessly covering ground in his box-to-box midfield role, and has already changed the dynamic of matches off the bench showing flashes of real potential. It should be noted that he's got a lot of growing up to do, though. Deybi is a teenager living in a foreign culture on the opposite end of the spectrum to his upbringing in San Pedro Sula, adapting to a brand new style of play with intense media coverage. In most instances this type of signing wouldn't be worthwhile, but Vancouver didn't hesitate to pull the trigger on the deal in large part thanks to the extensive research conducted by the scouting network. From this, the team acquainted themselves with his character and were well aware of the fierce spirit fans are currently enthused about months before he jumped off a plane at YVR. Technical improvement is to be expected and once he progresses in that regard the rest of the league will have to take notice.
Another motivating observers to raise their eyebrows with his cameo displays this year is Kianz Froese. After catching everyone's attention entering the 1-0 away win against Seattle at half-time in late 2014, a large number of supporters are firm believers in his abilities and have not been left disappointed with what has followed. Kianz joined that rivalry game - a tie with massive postseason implications no less - at its midpoint to make his pro debut, yet didn't exhibit any anxiety in his collected outing as he helped steer his side to three vital points. He affected proceedings in similar fashion against the Portland Timbers in another Cascadia Cup contest with the same composure; careful in possession and thorough in his decision-making. He's blessed with the invaluable gift of keeping his colleagues calm in high pressure situations and that makes him of huge use to Robbo and the technical staff. In the recent 1-1 draw with S2 at UBC, we witnessed a different facet to Froese's dynamic game. He started and was handed more direct responsibilities, getting himself on the ball with the intent to facilitate scoring opportunities more so than to steady the ship. In the 63rd minute, we were treated to some magic from the Canadian U20 international as he danced through Seattle's defence before a last gasp header on the line denied him a much deserved goal. It could be argued that, for the meantime, starting as a key figure for WFC2 will reap as many rewards with regards to his development as minutes with the first team.
On the same day Froese penned his first professional deal with the club, Marco Bustos signed a pre-contract to join the senior squad in January. Unfortunately he has yet to deliver on the hype as he's struggled with niggling injury problems since the preseason preparations, as a result robbed of the attention the other prodigies in this article are being afforded and without any form to speak of. Bustos simply hasn't had the chance to impress and another way that the Thundercaps will benefit the Whitecaps organization moving forward is the spotlight it shines on those out of the game day eighteen. Marco can assume a similar role to what everyone at the club will hope he ultimately occupies in the MLS starting eleven in a few years time and truly define himself in an optimal environment. Robbo elected to employ a number of the younger individuals at his disposal in the Voyaguers Cup last year and while they handled the occasion courageously, the outcome of defeat over two legs against Toronto FC was not what was hoped for. Thanks to Koch using the same kids on a weekly basis in USL they will be far better prepared for the challenge this time around and could even impact fixtures in the CONCACAF Champions League if called upon by the ex-New York Red Bulls midfielder.
Bustos may be wise to learn from what Tim Parker and Christian Dean do over the next few months as they flourish at the heart of the WFC2 back-line. The two first-round draft picks from the last two years have helped to transform a team that managed to concede three in the opening 37 minutes down in Tukwila, Washington into a far more resolute outfit. It's a work in progress, but one that is already bearing fruit in the form of an unbeaten home streak through two matches against tough MLS-operated opposition. Both will be pressing Pa-Modou Kah and Diego Rodriguez for minutes alongside Kendall Waston and they have certainly created buzz over the last two weeks. Dean has more credentials as a US U23 international in his second season in Vancouver, however there's a certain leadership quality to Parker that renders his rookie status irrelevant almost. He's mature beyond his years, well measured in how he approaches every opponent and always assured ahead of shot-stopper Paolo Tornaghi. It's imperative that these guys aren't thrown into the deep-end unprepared and so more time building a formidable axis in defence against USL forwards can only be seen as a good thing in my opinion, though absences through injury or suspension may accelerate this orientation process of sorts.
It's one thing to hand out these opportunities, but if they're not seized the activity is completely redundant. It's an issue that many around the league have to deal with and can force head coaches to lose faith in the conveyer belt of players coming through their system. Not in British Columbia though, the youngsters very rarely let their manager down when they're given the platform to prove their worth. There's a lot of work that has to be put in both on and off the pitch before they even get to spectate from the dug-out and that test in perseverance often dictates whether or not someone has the requisite strength to cope with the demands at the very top of the game. There are benefits that supporters aren't necessarily able to enjoy for themselves too, in training especially with the kids hungry to prove they belong among the veterans. It's a model that could serve as an infrastructure of consistency in the long-term under Robinson, a model we may see materialize as the South American imports move on to pastures new in Europe with time. All of the elite in MLS have a unique x-factor, so to speak, that separates themselves from the rest, and the injection of youth could very well be Vancouver's as they attempt to join that incredibly select group this campaign.