The Vancouver Whitecaps U-18 residency team is making a mark in the U.S., and with 10 goals in half as many playoff games from two Vancouver sharp-shooters, the team is in the hunt for a championship title.
On Wednesday evening at the Houston Amateur Sports Park where the ’Caps are competing among the U.S. Soccer Development Academy final eight as the lone representative of Canada’s professional clubs, Ben McKendry and Ben Fisk showed why they’re emerging as this country’s future soccer stars.
Protecting a three-goal lead over the De Anza Force in their second group stage match, midfielder and former Templeton student McKendry surged ahead for an attack in the 58th minute. He burst into space and put a diagonal ball outside to Fisk, another East Side athlete, who cut toward the net with his first touch and fired the ball inside the near post with his right foot. It was Fisk’s third goal that night, his second hat trick of the tournament.
On Monday in their opening game against the North Carolina Fusion, Fisk buried three shots to seal a 4-1 victory. McKendry finished what his teammate started and added a fourth goal to take an early lead in the group stage standings.
“Our attacking play—eight goals in two games—you can’t really fault it,” Whitecaps FC U-18 head coach Craig Dalrymple told ussoccer.com. “Defensively, we’ve given up some goals that we shouldn’t have but if we play a complete game, a full 90 minutes, we’ll have success.”
In the qualifying round to reach the U.S.S.D.A. championship tournament, which is the culmination of that country’s elite youth academy program, McKendry scored three goals in three games. Fisk was in on two of those.
The Whitecaps U-18 are undefeated and sit at the top of their group with six points. On Friday they play the winless Colorado Rapids and can control their fate with either a win or a tie to compete for the championship Sunday at Houston’s BBVA Compass Stadium, the 22,000-seat arena home to the Dynamo of the MLS.
“A win would be incredible,” said McKendry. “We try not to think about it right now, we try to take it one game at a time, but we’re definitely a group that can go to the final and win. That would be a special way to end my time for now with the club.”
Both McKendry and Fisk turned 19 this winter, putting them in their last year of eligibility for the Whitecaps development program. The Vancouver soccer club joined Major League Soccer last year and has consistently stated its commitment to developing homegrown talent. A third Vancouver player, Callum Irving, starts in net for the U-18 squad.
Reaching the final eight and nearing the championship match of the 72-team U.S.S.D.A. is one signal the Whitecaps’ investment is paying dividends now and will continue to build equity as the teenage players mature. Fisk and McKendry want to sign professional MLS contracts, ideally with their home club, but the bigger picture is out of focus for this week at least, said Fisk.
“We are the only Canadian team [in the U.S.S.D.A.] and we’re making a big impact on the team and turning some heads. I think we know that, but I don’t really think too far past that. We’re taking everything as it comes and then maybe afterwards, especially if we do well at this tournament, we’ll feel it and see what we’ve done,” he said Wednesday from Houston.
“They worked very hard all year. It’s been a long season for them,” residency assistant coach Martin Nash told whitecapsfc.com. “It’s brilliant to have a team that the club invests so much interest in to be successful. But the boys don’t want to stop here, they want to go and try to win it all.”
The Whitecaps residency program includes U-18, U-16 and U-14 teams that don’t just feed their Vancouver system but also contribute to Canada’s national teams. Both Fisk and McKendry are on the men’s U-20 Canadian roster.
The club’s role in developing national soccer talent and pride is “massive,” said McKendry, who will study and play at the University of New Mexico in September.
“When I was a kid, I was thinking of going to Europe and playing professionally there, but kids these days can think about playing for the Vancouver Whitecaps. Soccer is a sport that Vancouver is starting to back more and more, which is an exciting thing.”