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.