Whitecaps U-23 turn frustration to a comeback win in PDL opener

Vancouver Whitecaps kick off their PDL campaign against Kitsap Pumas. Previously spread out around the lower mainland, Thunderbird Stadium at UBC will be the home ground for PDL games. Photo Andrew Bates/Little Rubber Pellets

Vancouver Whitecaps kick off their PDL campaign against Kitsap Pumas. Previously spread out around the lower mainland, Thunderbird Stadium at UBC will be the home ground for PDL games. Photo Andrew Bates/Little Rubber Pellets

It could have been a lousy way to start the season, but it turned around fast.

The Vancouver Whitecaps U-23 team started off their USL Premier Development League season against Kitsap Pumas with a 2-1 win Friday night at Thunderbird Stadium.

The league occupies a weird spot in the Whitecaps’ player development system. Players are often identified for loans to lower-division teams, NCAA programs or first-team spots already by the time they turn 19.

So the PDL is a place for Residency grads and other players who have promise but aren’t not ready to step right into the first team get games against good opposition. This year’s crop of 11 college players include UBC’s Gagandeep Dosanjh, UVic’s Cam Hundal and SFU’s Derrick Bassi. The team also has MLS players Simon Thomas, Adam Clement and Aminu Abdallah.

Thomas is a bit more of a known factor, starved for minutes due to being third on the depth chart behind both Brad Knighton and Joe Cannon. But Clement and Abdallah are more recent signings, with lots of hours in practice and less game experience.

The new crop of players did not, however, start their season off on the right foot. On six minutes, a ball bounced straight up out of a scramble in front of the Whitecaps goal. Kitsap forward Sebastiaan Jansen found it with his head to stab home and establish a lead.

The early deficit was especially painful for the ‘Caps, who had the greater share of chances in the first period. Forward Bobby Jhutty sent a wonderful free kick low on the right post and Dosanjh fired high right, both saved by Kitsap keeper Dustyn Brim.

The finest chance of the half belonged to Jhutty. He was wide-open on the left when he got his head on a cross around the 40th minute, but Brim somehow leapt across to claim it. Despite being up 8-4 in shots, the Whitecaps went into the half down a goal.

The early parts of the first half did not seem to improve. The emboldened Bremerton, Washington side pushed the Caps defence and goalkeeper Thomas, who earned his first two senior caps for Canada in January, keeping a 0-0 clean sheet against the US men’s national team.

But the Whitecaps were still generating chances, including an attempt around sixty minutes where Cam Hundal slapped a volley on goal only to be saved again by Brim.

It was Hundal who would equalize for the Caps on 69 minutes. Taking a pass from substitute Spencer DeBoice, he fired a right rocket of a shot from high on the left side of the penalty area that went across a diving Brim and beat him on the right side.

Three minutes later, the Whitecaps reversal was complete. A ‘Caps player was bundled over in the box, but play went on despite penalty calls and the ball fell to DeBoice, who smashed it into goal from 12 yards to put the ‘Caps up 2-1.

Kitsap did not go down easily, with forward Andrew Sterling hitting the crossbar on 81 minutes, but they did go down. They have started the season at the bottom of the PDL’s Northwest Division, having played in the only other game of the year so far, a 3-0 loss to the Victoria Highlanders.

The Whitecaps will see the Highlanders next week on Friday, the Salish Sea derby being this year’s principal decider for the supporter-purchased Juan de Fuca Plate.

It’s a bright start for a team that missed out on the playoffs by a point last year. Their strength was their quality rather than their chemistry, but the rest can come with time.

Stats after the jump.

Continue reading

Whitecaps U-23 have a mad dash down a hard road to the PDL playoffs

To make it to the PDL playoffs, Vancouver Whitecaps U-23 must win all their remaining games, including a home game against rivals Victoria in Richmond. (Photo BlueAnWhiteArmy/Flickr)

The Vancouver Whitecaps U-23s are on the outside looking in to the USL PDL playoffs, but a 4-0 victory against the North Sound SeaWolves was the first in a sequence of three games in six days they must win to have any chance at the post-season.

The Caps set out for revenge for a 3-1 loss to the SeaWolves in Edmonds, WA, and had the lions share of momentum throughout the game with 21 shots on goal. Cam Hundal and Bobby Jhutty scored, with Coulton Jackson notching a brace between 33 and 49 minutes as the goals all bunched up around half-time. Nolan Wirth, a callup from the Whitecaps U-16s, made five saves in a shutout to bundle away second-last-place North Sound in the first of three must-win games from the Caps.

The Whitecaps sit in fifth place, four points out of the last playoff spot in the Northwest Division, and they’ve got a game in hand on the fourth-placed Washington Crossfire. But a 3-3-1 June that included losses to the Crossfire, Portland Timbers U-23 and the SeaWolves has put them in a spot where they need to do three things to see playoffs:

  1. Win without their best players. The Whitecaps are playing without MLS first-team player Caleb Clarke, on a tryout in Germany, as well as starting goalkeeper Callum Irving, defender Daniel Stanese, midfielder Ben McKendry, and strikers Ben Fisk and Yassin Essa, who’ve been called up to the Canadian U-20 team. And with the U-18s, including backup GK Lucas Menz, eyeing USSDA Finals Week on the 16th, it’s an awful time to make a playoff push. Assistant coach Martin Nash suited up as an overage player the other day because they literally didn’t have enough bodies to fill the required bench spots.
    The Caps drooped to a goalless draw away to the Kitsap Pumas and a loss to the Crossfire that put them in this sorry mess in the first place, but responded nicely against North Sound. They’ve still got a 16-year-old in goal, though.
  2. Win three games in six days. Last night’s win in Swangard was just the first step. Tomorrow, the Whitecaps will play a Salish Sea derby against the Victoria Highlanders in Richmond, where they have a chance to lift the supporters-backed Juan de Fuca Plate trophy for PDL teams based in B.C. The final game in the swing is against the Fraser Valley Mariners, the other B.C. team in the division. The University of the Fraser Valley’s summer team has not fared well this year, recording 13 losses and a single draw. It’s lucky that all three teams are the bottom three in the league, but Victoria held Vancouver to a 1-1 draw in May, and the same result would sink them.
  3. Hope results go their way. If they can accomplish all that, the Whitecaps still need to rely on the Portland Timbers. Their U-23 squad beat the Crossfire 1-0 last night in Portland to seal their spot in the playoffs, and travel to Washington to play the reverse fixture Wednesday. If Vancouver take nine of nine points, a Portland win or draw would send them clear to the playoffs. A Crossfire win would end it for the Caps, so their results are in other hands. Nine points are absolutely necessary to top Washington: the PDL tiebreakers are head-to-head points (tied), wins (Crossfire have 8 to the Caps’ 6, so they need two to tie), and goal differences (heavily in Vancouver favour.)
  4. So if they can win three times in six games missing six starters, all they have to do is hope the Portland Timbers win when they’ve already qualified for the playoffs.

    But it’s possible.