Vancouver build talent pipeline for Canadian national team

Russell Teibert goes up against Toronto FC

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VANCOUVER, B.C. — When the Canadian men’s national team takes BMO Field against St. Lucia on Friday in their first 2014 World Cup qualifying match, there won’t be a single member of the Vancouver Whitecaps in the squad.

Indeed, if you look at Vancouver’s roster, you’ll be hard-pressed to find much of a Canadian presence at all. There’s Philippe Davies, the 20-year-old midfielder who has yet to step on the field in Major League Soccer play this season, and Canadian-born Swiss international Alain Rochat, who left the True North with his family when he was two years old.

Of course there’s two-time Canadian Under-17 Player of the Year Russell Teibert (above) as well, but his 204 minutes of action since Tom Soehn’s move down to the touchline will surely have given Canada head coach Stephen Hart little to contemplate.

But not so fast — this is Vancouver’s first year in MLS, and a team can’t make meaningful contributions to a national program overnight.

“When you look at the young players we have in our group, and the young players that are in the Residency [program] at the moment, there is certainly a long-term project that we get as many national team players into the mix as possible,” Whitecaps assistant coach and former Canadian international Colin Miller told MLSsoccer.com at training on Wednesday.

“The vision is definitely to get as many of our young players into as many different age groups, whether it be the Under 17s, the Olympic team or the full national side.”

And at the youth level the Whitecaps are doing just that. The club contributed five players to the Canadian squad that placed second at the CONCACAF U-17 Championship, and six players to Canada’s U-17 World Cup team.

“That could be the first crop that you see two or three young guys coming through into the [senior] national program,” Miller said. “That’s the vision you have to have, providing those young players with the right environment, and I’m sure the Whitecaps will provide that for them.”

With the Residency program expanding to 80 full-time youth players in the U-14, U-16 and U-18 age categories this month, it looks as if the ‘Caps are set to continue to roll out that conveyor belt of talent for Canada’s youth sides.

“We’ve just started our first Whitecaps U-14 squad, and if somebody had said to me seven, eight years ago that that would be a possibility, I’d have said there’d be no chance,” Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi told MLSsoccer.com recently.

“It’s a very significant moment in the evolution of our sport from a player development point of view. Our U-16 and U-18 teams will start up in the Academy League in the United States in mid-September, and we’re the only Canadian entry into the US Academy league.

“There’s no doubt that whatever we do that results in enhanced opportunities for young players is going to be beneficial to the national teams, and that’s part of our objective.”

Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @martinmacmahon