The story of the Whitecaps Football Club began on December 11th, 1973. Forty years, eleven months, and ten days later, WFC2 came into being as a USL Pro side. Before the announcement, the club had looked into a number of venues. Coquitlam, Surrey, and Swangard were all suggested. They came awfully close to reaching a deal with the City of New Westminster. But in the end, it was Thunderbird Stadium that got the nod. Today the club announced that Alan Koch will be heading up the coaching staff for WFC2's inaugural season and beyond.
Koch, who had spent the last seven years running the men's program at Simon Fraser University, with two as members of the NAIA, and the last five in the NCAA, will be joined by assistant coach Steve Meadley, and goalkeeper coach Raegyn Hall.
Per club policy, terms of the contracts were not disclosed, but we understand that they are multi-year deals, and that Koch will continue to serve as the club's college scout, a position he has held since the start of last year. His ties to Whitecaps FC run all the way back to 2009, when he managed the club's USL W-League side, while also serving in the same capacity with SFU's Men's team.
The Clan's first five seasons in NCAA have been nothing short of an unbridled success. They've never finished lower than third, winning the division on four occasions, and made two College Cup Semifinal appearances out of the three seasons in which they were eligible. As Whitecaps FC president Bob Lenarduzzi put it, "Alan has had great success over the past seven years at SFU."
The 39-year old Koch leaves the Clan having earned an all-time record of 126 wins, 7 draws, and 21 losses. In six of his seven years, he was named Conference Coach of the Year, and the Clan have held a top ten national ranking in every season he's been in charge. "We're looking forward to working with him in the next step of his career as we get set for the inaugural season of WFC2," added Lenarduzzi.
"This is an amazing opportunity and one that I'm very excited about," said Koch. "I'm grateful to the club for bringing me in, and I'm looking forward to working with Robbo and his technical staff. We share a similar philosophy and vision. I'm ready to hit the ground running."
The native of Durban, South Africa, carries a NSCAA Premier Diploma with distinction, a Canadian "B" license, various South African licenses, a UEFA "B" badge, and he is currently in the process of completing his UEFA "A" level through the Irish Football Association.
Earlier, we spoke with Zachary Meisenheimer of the Curva Collective regarding USL Pro. "Whitecaps FC being a part of USL Pro is a natural progression. We needed this. I wouldn't say it's long overdue, but I'm glad it's happening only one year after LA had done it."
He sees the advantages as twofold. First, "it will provide meaningful playing opportunities for players who aren't getting that with the first team. And for the movement I'm a part of, the Curva Collective, hopefully this can be as much a development place for supporters" as it will be for the players.
He hopes that Thunderbird Stadium will become "a place for people who can't afford to go to a first team match, or who are disgruntled with that experience," a place where supporters "can come together, and we can continue to grow football supporter culture here in Vancouver."
"I really believe that this can be a great place for that." Having lived through the latter stages of the Swangard experience, and been a supporter since around 2003, he said that " when you're in a smaller, intimate ground, you can do things differently. You can do some things that you can't do in MLS, or" with a laugh and a knowing smile, "hopefully you can do some things that you can't do in MLS."
"This is a great opportunity to develop supporter culture. For our movement, and the other movements that exist in our city, it's kind of a return to our roots, being in a small ground, with a small group of people. There's a lot of old time Southsiders that will be really happy about this."
Recognising that "some people have walked away because of this, that, or the other," he added that "hopefully some of them will reengage and embrace, finding a place that they can support in what they feel are meaningful and quality ways. That's what we long for in our movement. We look at this as how can we engage the future generations of supporters?"
Helping supporters, both new and old, to engage and embrace "what it is to support our local football club" is what he's "most excited about. I know there's going to be barriers to that, I know there's going to be things we'll come up against, or conversations we'll need to have, but that's what I'm excited about."
To those who have never experienced USL Pro, he said that "there's some quality atmospheres in USL Pro. Seattle has things going on, and Portland as well, so there should be that Cascadia-style support with travel and more than one set of supporters."
"That's another thing we need to talk about." There should be an away supporters section. "You want it to be meaningful for them, with similar elements to the home support. You want to make away supporters want to come to your ground, because you want a proper atmosphere."
As for the product on the pitch, he said that "it's not bad. Look at the US Open Cup for example. There's USL Pro clubs that are knocking off MLS sides who maybe aren't playing everyone from their first team in those matches, but there's been a lot of quality matches in US Open Cup, where you've seen a lot from the USL Pro sides."
"It's going to be a decent level of football, a higher standard than the PDL, and part of that just comes from the fact that players are going to be getting paid, or getting paid more," which is of course something that's come up recently in MLS with the ongoing Collective Bargaining Agreement talks between league and the players union.
"As we continue to develop players, it'll be interesting to see which of our players will take this opportunity and embrace it, and which of them will say 'no, I'd rather go and make more money, or have a different opportunity.' We've had some guys doing that, and they are progressing," with Daniel Stanese and Caleb Clarke being two prime examples of this. "But USL Pro is a good standard."
Last year, Los Angeles Galaxy became the first MLS club to own and operate its own USL Pro side. "One of the things we've learned from LA is that when you have guys who are rehabilitating injuries, or who aren't getting minutes, it's a great place to go. When you look back over previous years, this was the thing we need for a Derrick Bassi. Coming out of residency program, he got caught up between pro and post-secondary."
"We could have used this for Andy O'Brien," added Jeff Tinker, before Zachary Meisenheimer continued, "maybe he could have used a game or two in a situation like this. Even Jay DeMerit last year, he was coming back from injury, and they were getting games against the likes of Washington State University."
With all due respect to Washington State University, USL Pro would have offered a far better test of his fitness levels. As useful as friendlies are, they just can't compete with the game-like situations that come about in a tabled league format.
"Hopefully this provides opportunities for those situations, but mostly it's the younger players you want to see play and develop. Whether those are our residency players or draft picks we're allowed to sign to a contract. Maybe it's not an MLS contract, but it ties them to our club, and allows us to compensate them for coming here and being a part of our club. It also allows them to develop as well."
"Obviously there's an inherent value in having the USL Pro side in Vancouver. The first team coaches can be here, go to matches, and watch. There's a massive upside to being able to see them yourself, monitor them yourself, talk to" Alan Koch, and the rest of WFC2's coaching staff “face to face about where they're at. For our coaches and technical staff, this is a blessing and an opportunity for them to more fully assess the development and progress our players are making."
Peter Lahay agreed with what Meisenheimer had to say "about bringing it back down to the grass roots again, giving young people a chance and a place where they can go to a game and not have to pay the heavy cost of a ticket for an MLS game."
A firm believer in the standards of the club, he said that "you know how the Whitecaps organised things at Swangard." They provided a safe, secure, and "wholesome atmosphere, the Caps were always involved in the community," the players would "all come out and they give autographs after the game," and hopefully with WFC2, they will again.
Whitecaps FC 2 kickoff their inaugural campaign on Sunday, 19 April 2015, when they play host to Toronto FC II at Thunderbird Stadium.