On Friday October 13th, the Vancouver Whitecaps 2 played their final game, an unlucky 4-3 defeat the hands of Orange County (OC), to close out their 2017 USL season. The match was exciting, with the ThunderCaps taking a 3-1 lead by the 62nd minute, only to have OC claw back with three late goals to turn the dream start into a nightmarish end. As with many matches this season, few were on-hand at UBC Thunderbird Stadium, with only 618 fans in attendance to say farewell. WFC 2 finished their third season in USL in 14th place, with a record of 5 wins, 18 losses, and 9 draws.
The Vancouver Whitecaps 2 joined USL prior to the 2015 season, alongside other MLS reserve franchises Montreal, New York, Portland, Seattle, Salt Lake, and Toronto. While the Whitecaps certainly wanted the ThunderCaps to be competitive in USL, they made it clear that their main goal was to create the much-needed stepping stone between the Residency program and the Major League Soccer club.
In building up the ThunderCaps, there were questions surrounding where the team should play. There was certainly desire from fans for the team to be based out of Swangard Stadium; the former home of the Whitecaps. However, when that option became unfeasible, fans set their sights on Port Coquitlam and New Westminster. There was a belief that New Westminster was an ideal home, given its central location and easy access to public transit. Additionally, the partnership would prove beneficial to New Westminster, as it would see a refurbishing of Queen’s Park Stadium. Unfortunately, a deal could not be reached between the City of New Westminster and the Vancouver Whitecaps.
After other potential options were exhausted, including Surrey, the Vancouver Whitecaps 2 setup shop at UBC Thunderbird Stadium, and the ThunderCaps moniker was born.
Under former Simon Fraser University head coach Alan Koch, the ThunderBirds finished up their inaugural campaign with 8 wins, 14 losses, and 6 draws. Finishing 11th in the West, it is unsurprising that the club drew an average of only 1,682 fans to the not-easily-accessible UBC campus; placing them 19th out of 24 teams for attendance.
Despite the poor first season, the ThunderCaps rebounded in 2016. They saw an increase in average attendance (1,779), thanks in part to three of their 15 home matches being played in Langley. They also battled their way to the Western Conference Finals, after finishing the regular season 6th with 12 wins, 9 losses, and 9 draws.
2016 also saw several young promising players make their impact. Kianz Froese, Alphonso Davies, Kyle Greig, Brett Levis, Spencer Richey, Marco Bustos, and Ben McKendry all played regular minutes for the club. With each of these players also getting their opportunity with the Vancouver Whitecaps -mostly through Canadian and CONACAF Championship play- it appeared that the objectives set out for the ThunderCaps were beginning to take shape.
Optimism surrounding the reserve team was dealt a heavy blow in mid-December of 2016 when Alan Koch headed off to FC Cincinnati. It was not until more than two months later (February 20th, 2017), and a month before the season opener, that a replacement in Rich Fagan was announced. Rich Fagan seemed like an ideal choice as he had been a coach with the Whitecaps youth teams since 2010 and thus should be quite familiar with some of the players that would be suiting up for the ThunderCaps.
Unfortunately, 2016 success did not lead to 2017 success. The ThunderCaps floundered near the bottom of the 15-team Western Conference. Despite increasing the number of matches played in Langley to six, the ThunderCaps saw a considerable dip in their average attendance. By season’s end, their average of 869 fans only beat out New York II’s 632 average.
Last week, it was officially announced by the Whitecaps that the ThunderCaps would be no more. They join FC Montreal in a failed attempt at fielding a developmental USL club. Like Montreal did with Ottawa Fury, the Whitecaps will now enter into an affiliation deal with expansion club Frenso FC. With the departure of WFC 2 from USL, that leaves eight MLS squads (including new expansion Atlanta) with complete developmental teams in USL, and 13 (including Whitecaps) with affiliation deals.
It will be interesting to see how this new partnership with Fresno develops and whether we see more MLS clubs fold their direct USL developmental teams.
Let us know your thoughts on the Rise and Fall of the Vancouver ‘ThunderCaps’ Whitecaps FC 2.