Friends, I’m in a bit of a bad place soccer wise right now. The Vancouver Whitecaps have just lost 4-1 to Atlanta United on the most shocking piece of refereeing I’ve ever seen go against the ‘Caps (though keep in mind I was born in ‘98). So I seethed with rage for the whole game, took a break, then came back to read comments from Atlanta fans who thought the call was completely justified. Since I’m full of impotent rage I thought I might as well use it productively and systematically tear apart the roster building strategy of the Vancouver Whitecaps’ USL affiliate Fresno F.C. It is my contention that Fresno F.C are bad from a development perspective and equally bad in terms of being competitive.
At the time of writing this, Fresno has just lost their first game 3-2 to the Mickey Mouse-est of Mickey Mouse clubs, a team that’s more meme than team, Las Vegas Lights. Not a single Whitecaps residency product was involved at any point. Now, for quite some time I’ve been voicing concerns, both here and on Twitter, that Fresno was signing too many mediocre (if they were even that good) journeymen who would block pathways for young ‘Caps players and who would not form a team that could be competitive in USL. This culminated when I made the following tweet after Fresno signed Kyle Reynish (mediocre journeyman), Abdul Alhassan (can’t even find any references to him on Google other than Fresno’s website), and Alex Cooper (Scottish Championship reject)
Now I assume Melvin is pushed down the depth chart. Baldisimo, Campbell, Melvin, Verhoeven have gone from being regular starters at the pro level in an environment invested in their development to bench players on a team of very mediocre journeymen #VWFC— Caleb Wilkins (@wilkins_caleb24) March 13, 2018
To this tweet the official twitter account of Fresno F.C, not a fan account but the actual Twitter account of Fresno F.C, responded by linking me to a match report of a friendly where Terran Campbell scored a goal and adding a shrugging emoji. Now, I realize that the Twitter guy for Fresno doesn’t get to pick the team but I can’t help but feel a bit betrayed. They sent me this tweet with their sarcastic emoji like they got me. Like the argument I’d put forward was so invalid that any sensible person would dismiss it, and then, when they took to the field, proved every negative thing I said about them to be true. Don’t let the 3-2 scoreline fool you, Fresno was down 3-0 and got two late goals. Furthermore Las Vegas, as we’ve seen in preseason, are barely a serious club and I can’t imagine losing to them bodes well for the rest of the season. WFC2 may have been awful but they at least had the decency to give pro minutes to some young players. I’m sure Fresno’s defense would be that they are an independent club, focused on winning, and that the veterans are better than the Residency grads. Thus I think a fair question to ask would be “yeah, but are they though?”. Let’s look at some of the players who kept the ‘Caps lads out of the lineup against Las Vegas
Kyle Reynish is a 34 year old goalkeeper who has spent most of his career as an MLS backup. The result of this is that he’s only played more than 10 games in a season once in his entire career. I mean, he’s fine I guess. He did let in a Tim Howard-esque goal against Las Vegas where he just kind of watched it go in, but i’m sure he’s having knee trouble in his old age or something. Meanwhile Sean Melvin is 23, already has a senior cap for Canada, and showed last year that he was a perfectly capable first choice USL keeper. So what, really, is the point in Fresno signing Reynish? What are we doing here? What’s the reasoning behind playing a 34 year old who’s, at best, marginally better than Melvin? Recently Landon Donovan praised Fresno GM Frank Yallop for sticking by him when he was a young player and giving him the opportunity to become the great player that he did. Fresno proudly retweeted this. But, if they aren’t going to actually practice this philosophy with their club, then I don’t see on what grounds they can suggest that they have the people in place to bring up the next star.
Beto Navarro/Agustin Cazarez
Navarro and Cazarez are both 28 year old centre midfield players whose careers, while fine, are nothing particularly exciting. Navarro seems to be on the team because he once played for PDL side Fresno Fuego. Cazarez is one of a slew a Sacramento Republic rejects to follow head coach Adam Smith to Fresno. They’re fine but to play 20-year-old Matthew Baldisimo would be, at worst, a lateral move. Baldisimo can also play right back, but he was kept out there by 26-year-old Orlando B reject Zach Ellis-Hayden. Ellis-Hayden is at least Canadian though so we can take some small comfort in that.
Jemal Johnson/Danny Barrera/Pedro Ribiero
Jemal Johnson is a 32-year-old winger who has played for 16 clubs. He’s never stuck around at any of them for very long except for MK Dons, the most evil club in world football. Danny Barrera is a 28-year-old winger who at least played regularly with Sacramento Republic, but has fallen out of the pro ranks to CAL F.C not once but twice in a ten year career. Pedro Ribiero is a 27-year-old striker and MLS reject. He had what can generously be described as his best season in 2014 when he scored twice in nine appearances for the Philadelphia Union. Despite being a striker the most goals he’s ever scored in a single season was 6, in the PDL, for reading United. Meanwhile Terran Campbell and Noah Verhoevan are 19 and 18 respectively and have generally looked dangerous in what pro minutes they’ve had. Is it to much to ask that one of them get a chance to show what they can do when the team is down 3-0? I mean at WFC2 Campbell was playing 90 minutes every week but he didn’t score five goals six years ago, so clearly that’s out of the question. So I ask again; What are we doing here? What is the point of sending our players to Fresno if they’re just going to bury them behind mediocre journeymen?
Just for fun let’s look at some of the worst players Fresno has signed. Now, none of these players actually played against Las Vegas, but when you read through this next section, keep in mind some of the players who were cast by the wayside when WFC2 folded.
Suma is a 26-year-old striker. He hasn’t scored a professional goal, as far as I can tell, since 2013 (it was for an Estonian reserve side). As recently as 2016 he was playing in the American Soccer League. Now I’d never heard of the American Soccer League so I looked it up. It’s on the 5th level of the US pyramid and most of its teams play at high school fields. Say what you will about Thomas Sanner but at least he’s scored some goals in the previous calendar year at the USL level.
I once touted Chaney as a player to watch because he got picked up by a club overseas at a young age. It didn’t pan out for him but I figured that’s the sort of reclamation project that USL B sides are for. However, when it turned out Fresno weren’t WFC2 California edition, Chaney started to seem more and more insulting of a signing. He scored a lot of goals for Fresno Fuego but I can find no evidence of him scoring any goals at a level higher than that.
The PDL can be a great place to find young talent. 27-year-old goalkeepers who haven’t even made enough of a dent on the professional game to warrant a Wikipedia page, not so much. Did I mention that Nolan Wirth is currently languishing in VISL? Or that Luciano Trasolini is playing for TSS Rovers? Something to keep in mind.
33-year-old midfielder who’s played for 13 clubs. Has dropped down to the PDL on a number of occasions. Thomas Gardner is playing for UBC.
26-years-old. Was let go by LA Galaxy II after never getting anywhere near the first team. Gloire Amanda is also playing in the college game.
If Fresno aren’t going to play our players the least they could do is actually be good. This, however, seems out of their reach. WFC2 folding wasn’t really the Whitecaps’ fault. USL increased the requirements for stadium size and the ‘Caps were left with no suitable venue. Nevertheless, Questions must be asked about our current path to the first team. If a player isn’t good enough for MLS at 18 then the ‘Caps can’t do much but send him off to college and hope they can get him back when he’s ready in a few years. Ideally they could send them to a USL affiliate, like they had with WFC2. Fresno has worse facilities, can take fewer residency graduates and won’t even play the ones they do have. What exactly are the Whitecaps getting out of this partnership? Affiliate deals usually involve some kind of payment to the affiliate. Are the Whitecaps paying Fresno to stunt Terran Campbell’s development by keeping him pinned to the bench behind extremely uninspiring 32-year-olds? If the answer is yes I suggest they should stop.