With the MLS offseason heating up, Whitecaps fans can be forgiven for forgetting one major change to the team’s structure: the demise of the three year old Vancouver Whitecaps 2 side in favor of partnering with expansion USL team Fresno FC.
Don’t know much about Fresno FC? Well we figured we’d put together a bit of a primer on everyone’s new favorite USL team.
An offshoot of the popular Premier Development League side Fresno Fuego, the USL announced in July that an expansion team would be awarded to America’s 34th most populous city (a fact I did not know before researching this story). In November, the Whitecaps announced the axing of the Thundercaps (RIP) and the partnership with Fresno.
One thing that longtime Canadian soccer fans will appreciate is the presence of Frank Yallop, who signed on to be Fresno FC’s general manager. Yallop’s 52 caps for the Canadian National Team (and two years spent managing the The Canucks) means that he should be pretty comfortable with the influx of young, largely Canadian talent that will be making the trip down to central California. His recent coaching experience leaves something to be desired but given that he was considered as a potential Whitecaps head coach back in the day, there should be a familiarity between the two parties.
Manager Adam Smith also has MLS experience, serving as the Portland Timbers’ goalkeeping coach and academy director in their first several seasons in MLS. He also has put together a pretty nice resume as an assistant for the Sacramento Republic, one of USL’s more successful franchises.
Three Whitecap prospects already figure to be in Smith’s plans for the upcoming season, as winger Terran Campbell, midfielder Michael Baldisimo and keeper Sean Melvin have already been loaned out. They are currently joined by four other players, all of whom are lifers in American lower division soccer.
The big question that will likely be weighing on the minds of fans looking towards the future is how much playing time the club’s players will get and whether the training staff will be able to develop them as effectively 1,000 miles away. But nine other clubs use a similar partnership system as Vancouver (Philadelphia, San Jose and Houston have a unique arrangement where they run the technical side of their affiliate clubs but let a local ownership groups manage the finances). The Whitecaps don’t even have the most geographically incongruous pairing, an honor which goes to the Colorado Rapids’ deal with the Charlotte Independence.
Ultimately, the Whitecaps prospects are likely to be a valuable resource to a team looking to compete instantly in a competitive USL Western Conference. A good poster child for the benefits of using MLS prospects is the Tulsa Roughnecks. A year after finishing dead last in the West, the Roughnecks partnered with the Chicago Fire for the 2017 season and brought three top youngsters (Joey Calistri, Matej Dekovic and Collin Fernandez) in on loan. Buoyed by their contribution, the Roughnecks rose to seventh in the conference and snagged a playoff berth. This is a long way of saying that Melvin, Campbell and Baldisimo should be in line for plenty of playing time this season.
Given that all USL matches are streamed live on YouTube, there is little reason for Caps fans not to check out the progress of some potential future first teamers. And, as a side bonus, they will also get to check-out one of the burgeoning soccer cities in the U.S. The Fuego and Fresno FC will share the friendly confines of Chukchansi Park (no I don’t know how to pronounce it either), the ballpark used by the city’s AAA baseball team.
The Fuego routinely draw crowds in the thousands, a pretty impressive bar for lower division American soccer, and the atmosphere at matches is pretty cool (see the video below).
It seems that club officials are optimistic in a similar level of support for Fresno FC matches. The club elected to go with “The Foxes” as their nickname (Los Zorros for you Spanish speakers out there, which is even cooler), meaning that Whitecaps fans will be hoping that Academy prospects will help Fresno go on a Leicester City-esque run in USL this season.
What are your thoughts on the Fresno/Vancouver partnership? What should the parent club’s expectations for player development be like this year? Let us know in the comment section!