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Why Would Anyone Ever Play for the Whitecaps’ U23 Team?

I totally fail to see the appeal of the team to talented footballers between the ages of 18 and 23

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps head coach Marc Dos Santos Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

This question has been sitting at the back of my mind for a while now but it was Michael McColl’s article that really brought it to the fore. I have been wracking my brains but I can’t think of a single good reason why anyone would want to play for Vancouver Whitecaps’ newly formed U23 team. If you’re a young talented footballer in Canada then just about every footballing option out there seems like clearly a better choice.

As someone who’s a similar age to the players that will be on this team I do not see the appeal at all. The CPL is forming next year and providing the opportunity for young Canadians to be part of a professional set up. Alternatively, you could play for one of the U Sports teams and get a degree which will provide you with more security if this whole soccer thing doesn’t work out and still be drafted into the CPL at a later date. So why would you choose to join a travel team that offers neither professionalism, nor the options that getting an education offers? Are the players on the U23 team even going to be paid?* Seems unlikely and if they do it almost certainly won’t be enough to support themselves. This already bad option is made far worse by the fact that the Whitecaps have a torrid record of bringing academy players through to the first team. The chances that you’ll actually be able to turn what is essentially a glorified try out into a successful MLS career are tiny. So why would anyone choose to play for this team which will give them at least a year away from proper professional football, a year away from working towards a degree and very little chance of career advancement? Unless there’s something i’m missing it seems the only players who would play for this team would be not good enough for CPL and not suited to University. That strikes me as a very narrow and not particularly inspiring band of players.

People often worry that the first team can’t attract good players. I think these people are probably overreacting but, even if they are right, those problems pale in comparison to the challenges that this U23 team will face trying to attract people. The only players who I can see this being a good decision for are players who are under 18 who will have the opportunity to get a bit of experience against players who are a bit bigger and stronger, or maybe for people who are desperate to play specifically for the Whitecaps. Marc Dos Santos has said he’s taking this team very seriously. I’m a big believer in Dos Santos but unless he has mind control in his bag of tricks I don’t see how he’s going to get any players to take the U23 team seriously.

This shouldn’t be taken as a put down to the players who have apparently already signed for the development, Patrick Metcalfe, Eric De Graaf, and Connor Glennon. They are all players who have done well in the University game and have the potential to carve out a career as professional footballers. But from an outsiders perspective signing for the U23s seems like such a bad decision that i’m experiencing some second hand anxiety for these guys. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see how things pan out. I would love nothing more than for the U23s to be a smashing success but right now I just don’t see a way for that to happen when CPL or the University game offer way more stability, better chances of career advancement and almost certainly more earning potential.

*Update: They will indeed be paid. I am also told by Farhan Devji that attracting players isn’t necessarily the goal of the team and it will mostly be academy players and young players already on first team contracts. This hasn’t totally alleviated my skepticism but there you have it.