VANCOUVER, B.C. – A 17-year-old will start in goal for the Vancouver Whitecaps on Wednesday, as coach Carl Robinson's youth revolution takes another step forward when the semifinals of the 2014 Amway Canadian Championship get underway.
The Whitecaps head east to take on MLS rivals Toronto FC in Wednesday's first-leg matchup (7:30 pm ET, Sportsnet One), chasing their first championship in the modern era – as well as the coveted CONCACAF Champions League spot that awaits the winners – and the focus is heavily on youth.
"I will play young players," Robinson told reporters on Monday before flying out to Toronto. "I have a young squad in my first team anyway, so this gives me another chance to evaluate some of my other younger players in the squad.
"I've said from Day 1 that I will give them a chance. I think you've seen the young players on the pitch running through brick walls for me. That's credit to them and that's credit to the direction that we're trying to take this football club."
The Whitecaps have made it a priority to become a younger team this season, and the effects are already being seen in the 'Caps' MLS roster, where the average age is 24.6 years old.
That average is taken down a further two years with Vancouver's initial 20-man Canadian Championship roster, which is short on veteran players and experience but strong on homegrown talent and a hunger to break through.
One of Vancouver's men of the moment, Kekuta Manneh, leads a young squad out to impress and push for MLS places, amongst them six unsigned Residency players who are among eight Canadians named to the squad.
"The thought process and reasoning behind it is, because it's a Canadian Championship, I want to give my Canadian players opportunities," Robinson noted.
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"How do young players learn? And that's the question I ask myself. When do they learn? We can say they're not ready yet. How do we know they're not ready? The only way that we learn if these young guys are ready is to give them the opportunity, and on Wednesday it's a great opportunity for them."
The player given perhaps the greatest opportunity is 17-year-old goalkeeper Marco Carducci (above), who Robinson confirmed would be starting the game.
A two-time Canadian U-17 Player of the Year, Carducci signed a homegrown MLS contract with the 'Caps in March and the feeling of many in Vancouver is that he is a future star in the making.
"I like him, full stop," said defender Andy O'Brien of the U-17 World Cup veteran. "Physically, he's built like a man. He's got a very quiet, confident personality. He's not arrogant and he's got all the attributes to do well. He's shown in a very short space of time how much the club think of him. He's ready to play. All he needs now is the opportunity."
Carducci will now get that opportunity with his first professional start on Wednesday, but he won't be alone.
Robinson confirmed that neither of the veteran center back pairing of O'Brien and captain Jay DeMerit will start the game, providing Johnny Leverón and Carlyle Mitchell the chance to come in and show their worth.
Vancouver's top 2014 SuperDraft pick, Christian Dean, will start in the left back role for the injured Sam Adekugbe and the rested Jordan Harvey, as Robinson gives Whitecaps fans a glimpse into the future.
"That's what we're trying to develop here on a club level," DeMerit told reporters. "It's about the development of these young guys, the talent and nurturing that talent. In order to nurture talent you've got to give them opportunities and I think there's no better opportunity than right now on Wednesday."