Amidst the first team’s return to the playoffs, WFC2’s season quietly ended in September. After a very bright start to the season, WFC2 fell off significantly in the second half of the season, after Levonte Johnson and JC Ngando more or less graduated to the first team on a full-time basis, and missed the playoffs again. But the point of a reserve team is not to win games, it’s to develop players for the first team. WFC2 has graduated four players (Johnson, Ngando, Ali Ahmed, and Simon Becher) into various first-team roles over the past two years which is a pretty good return. Although I don’t see anyone else on the team as being ready to step into MLS in the here and now, I think there are several players who could take a big step next year. This article will look at every player who played at least 450 minutes for WFC2, summarize how 2023 went for them, and outline what a successful 2024 would look like for them. This won’t include Johnson or Ngando as I consider them first-team players at this stage. As usual, we’ll be putting the players in groups rather than ranking them. I also remind everyone that the biggest factor in assessing how good of a prospect a player is has a lot more to do with how good they are for their age than how good they are today. All of the data is taken from the American Soccer Analysis’ G+ model.
This is essentially the “young and good” tier. These players are at or under the average age of an MLSNP player and performed at a high level in the minutes they played. I don’t think any of them are quite ready for regular MLS action yet but I would be keeping an eye on these guys to earn some first-team action next season.
2023: After a disastrous loan spell with Pacific F.C. in 2022, Habibullah had to show that he was still on track to meet the sky-high expectations he set for himself as a youth player. For the most part, he did that, though maybe not quite as emphatically as everyone would have hoped for. He finished second on the team in both goals (4) and assists (3). But for a player who was once touted as the next Alphonso Davies, you would hope he’d be a bit further along at this stage. Habibullah is mostly held back by his decision-making. He holds onto the ball too long and takes too many wasteful shots. In many ways, he still seems to be trying to play like a dominant age-group player. But despite those drawbacks, his technical quality is still abundantly clear. We may all need to adjust our expectations a little bit but, make no mistake, this is still a player with the potential to make an impact in MLS.
A Successful 2024: One of the big questions surrounding Habibullah is does he wants to be in Vancouver. There have been some rumblings that he is dissatisfied with his lack of first-team opportunities and he spent some time away on trials in Europe. If Habibullah wants to stay and fight for his spot (and clean up his decision-making a bit), I can see him having a similar season to the one we just saw from Levonte Johnson, dominating MLS Next Pro and getting the occasional look with the first team. But, having said that, I don’t think he’s quite shown the level yet where you could justify playing him in MLS games just to keep him happy.
2023: After a fairly solid rookie season, Linder was immense in 2023. As a big, aerially dominant, defensively sound centre-back he also seems to be exactly the sort of guy the first team is crying out for. But, due to a combination of injuries and international call-ups, he didn’t play a huge number of minutes. So it’s hard to say just how real this is. Also, as you can see from that “passing” stat, on-the-ball skills are still a little bit of a concern.
A Successful 2024: More of the same but over a longer time period. That and some improvement in his ability to play progressive passes out of the back.
2023: After several solid first-team outings and now a very strong MLSNP season I am willing to plant my flag. Isaac Boehmar is good. Now, is he future MLS #1 good? That remains to be seen. But I think the good performances have reached a critical mass and we can now say confidently he has an MLS future (it just might be an MLS future that’s mostly spent on the bench).
A Successful 2024: It’s going to be very interesting to see how the Whitecaps handle Boehmer from here. Yohei Takaoka seemed to struggle with the gargantuan minute load he was asked to undertake this season. Do the ‘Caps trust Boehmer to deputize for him full-time next season? Or would he be better off being loaned to a CPL team where he could be the undisputed #1? A lot of CPL keepers had down years in 2023 and I think Boehmer could be an upgrade for most of the teams. He and the club might benefit more from that than playing a handful of first-team games and splitting the MLSNP net with Max Anchor.
Something is Cooking:
This tier is comprised of young players who clearly have some upside but did not quite hit the same levels as the “hot prospects.” Obviously, quite a lot of these guys probably won’t pan out. That’s the nature of these things. But if two or three of them end up being first-team contributors that’s a pretty good return.
2023: Ehhhhhhh. Campagna showed mild improvement in his 3rd year as a professional but he still didn’t quite reach the heights you would hope for from a player once compared to Alessandro Nesta. Campagna projects as a slight ball-playing centre-back but as you can see he’s just sort of average. Of course, he’s still very young so there’s no need to panic at this stage but I would have liked to see more.
A Successful 2024: Essentially you would hope to see Campagna continue to improve in 2024. Particularly, it would be nice to see him be more dominant on the ball. He shows flashes of great ability but more consistency would be nice.
2023: in 2022 G+ had Ndakala as pretty much the worst outfield player in the league. So, compared to that, this is pretty good. Ndakala is not the biggest centre-back but he makes up for that by being mobile. He’s notable for his willingness to venture forward (hence the very high “receiving”). You can certainly picture him slotting in on the outside of a back three with the first team. But, of course, he would have to continue to grow.
A Successful 2024: I feel like I’m going to say “Do better than he did in 2023” for a lot of these guys. It would be nice to see Ndakala pin down a starting spot on a more consistent basis. He only really started playing regularly in the second half of the season.
2023: Ilic joined mid-season after being cut loose by 2. Bundesliga side Dusseldorf. As I have talked about in the past, I’m not a big believer in cast-offs from European academies as a source of MLS talent. But you can’t say there’s nothing there. Ilic is a big and powerful fullback with the ability to progress the ball into the final 3rd. But his end product and defensive positioning are sometimes a bit lacking.
A successful 2024: As an international player, Ilic has to be the best in the league at his position or close to it to earn an MLS contract. That’s going to be especially tough as the Whitecaps have quite a lot of competition for him at the fullback position.
2023: Bah got off to a red hot start but then dropped off a little bit as the season went on. Bah has been eye-catching for as long as I have been aware of him. He is capable of impressive dribbling and gut-busting runs up the right-hand side. But he struggles to turn those skills into chances consistently enough. Statistically, he did improve quite a bit in 2022, which is always a positive sign. But he’s probably still a year or two away from being MLS-ready.
A Successful 2024: Bah is very much a long-term project. So the main thing I will be looking for from him is continued and steady improvement. If he is more or less the same I think that would be a cause for concern.
2023: Definitely the most exciting player in this cohort. Gherasimencov at the moment is a pretty average MLSNP fullback but skipping the U-19 team altogether and being average at 18 is pretty impressive. For me, the eye test was a little kinder on his defensive work than the G+ model but there’s room for improvement all around.
A Successful 2024: Gherasimencov is one of Vancouver’s best prospects. With a full professional year under his belt, you would hope he would be one of the best fullbacks in MLSNP next season.
2023: Christian Greco-Taylor was trusted by the Whitecaps coaches to take the field for over 1000 minutes in MLSNP. It’s fair to say that whatever it is that they see hasn’t quite translated to this level. But if there’s one thing that’s become clear, it’s that it’s not uncommon for players making the jump from academy football to struggle with the jump to MLSNP. So, the fact that the coaching staff thinks highly enough of Greco-Taylor to put him out there a lot probably says good things about him. He split time between the centre of midfield and fullback.
A Successful 2024: Obviously we would like to see significant improvement next season. It’s all well and good to get on the field a lot as an 18-year-old but Greco-Taylor will have to have a bigger impact if he is to stay on track.
2023: Another player who got off to a hot start but struggled to maintain those levels as the season progressed. Coupland is a talented, ball-dominant dribbler. But his end product is still a bit lacking. He gets into a lot of good positions but he just does not turn those situations into shots often enough.
A Successful 2024: It’s pretty simple, he needs to score more. Coupland will be 20 at the start of next season so I would be hoping for well clear of 0.5 goal contributions per game next season (he was at 0.25 and 0.32 expected this season). All the ability is there, it’s just a matter of polish and consistency.
2023: On the old website I said all Max Anchor had to do for this season to be a success was be an above-average shot-stopper. Mission accomplished (just barely). As you can see, Anchor still has some kinks to work out. But for a 19-year-old keeper, this was a pretty good season.
A successful 2024: As the seeming heir apparent to the #1 shirt, you would hope that Anchor would continue to show significant year-over-year improvement. Yohei Takaoka is only 27 so there is no need for him to rush but you do want continued forward momentum.
Show Me Something:
This group is essentially the players who are on thin ice. It’s not time to give up on them yet, but they really need to show significant improvement next season to be worth keeping around.
2023: Lowell Wright generated a lot of sharable Twitter moments. A hat-trick on the last day, chipping the opposing keeper from the halfway line, using his size to body opposing players off the ball. Sadly though, these big moments were not backed up by consistently good underlying play. Wright’s season got off to a bad start. He came into the season looking heavy and word on the street is this contributed to a number of muscle injuries that prevented him from playing for most of the first half of the season. If I had to pick the biggest problem with Wright it’s that he hardly takes any shots from inside the box. This is kind of a problem for a striker. Most concerning of all, this is Wright’s fourth season as a professional and I don’t really see a lot of evidence he’s getting better. All that being said, the things that make Wright an enticing prospect are still there. He’s still really strong, shoots the ball really hard, and is good at holding the ball up.
A Successful 2024: Bottom line, the number of dangerous scoring chances Wright is involved in needs to increase significantly. He will turn 21 next season, which is the average age of MLS Next Pro. If he can’t dominate the league at that point we need to start asking serious questions about his MLS future.
2023: Hanson scored 3 goals in limited minutes last season and was highly thought of enough to be included in the first team’s pre-season training camp. So there were reasons to think this might be a breakout season. But, yeah, it’s never a good thing when a 20-year-old striker scores 0 goals. When he did get on the field Hanson looked significantly off the pace. That wouldn’t be so concerning if he was a 17-year-old called up from the academy but for his age, he really showed very little. Now, like Wright, he has a lot of physical traits that make him appealing, and he has shown the ability to score at this level. But he really needs to kick it up a notch next season.
A Successful 2024: Some goals would be nice! Hanson will be facing an uphill battle. Wright and Gloire Amanda (more on him later) were clearly preferred this season and next season he will also have to compete with Cyprion Kachwele for the single striker spot.
2023: Dasovic was a player I was keen to see more of this season. But, as you can see, it didn’t quite work out. At this stage, he’s probably the #4 centre-back on WFC2, and that’s not where you want to be in your age 20 seasons. He has looked good in the past, having shown some ability on the ball and the ability to manage space, so there’s still reason to keep him around.
2024: He needs to show his good elements much more consistently.
These are the players I would cut.
Technically a first-team player, but a 23-year-old with significant CPL experience should be doing a lot better than this. Yao was quite good in the air and in physical battles but he got absolutely cooked by just about any opponent with a bit of pace and dribbling ability.
Aguilar is a fine player for this level but he’s 25 and there’s no way he’s going to crack MLS at this stage. He’ll make someone in USL or CPL very happy.
Johnston managed to pop up in the box with a couple of goals so G+ likes him more. But he was pretty bad at all of the stuff you would hope for from a box-to-box midfielder like “passing” or “ball-winning.” If he was younger I’d be more willing to see if he could turn this around but at 22 I don’t see much point.
As a 24-year-old with experience in the Austrian Bundesliga, Amanda should be a dominant force in MLSNP. But he just wasn’t. He seemed to struggle with the physical side of the game, which is not a good sign for an older player in a development league. His only real redeeming factor was his ability to get in behind but that just didn’t show up often enough.
Other Notable Players:
As if this article wasn’t long enough, I wanted to talk about some other notable players who, for one reason or another, did not cross the minute’s threshold.
Firstly, the player I was probably most excited about going into the season, Jay Herdman. Sadly, his season was cut short by a serious injury. It will be interesting to see if he can recover and reach the heights I think he is capable of. His box-arriving ability would add an interesting dynamic to the first team’s midfield three.
Vancouver signed three international players mid-season but, in classic Whitecaps fashion, none of them could get visas in time to take the field this season. But, as a reminder, they are Gambian fullback Dembo Saidykhan, Tunisian midfielder Malek Mehri, and Tanzanian striker Cyprian Kachwele. As international players, each would have to be amongst the best at their position in the league to crack the first team. But, each looks like a pretty interesting prospect so I can’t wait to see what they have to offer.
The one midseason signing who did get to play was 20-year-old Canadian midfielder Malcolm Simmons. He showed some pretty impressive ball-winning ability but had a bit of trouble finding chemistry with his teammates. Still, though, he did enough to pique my interest.
A couple of interesting academy graduates started to get minutes in the final few games. Chief amongst these, in my view, is Jeevan Badwal. Badwal is a box-to-box midfielder who is set to play for Canada at the U-17 World Cup. Like Gherasimencov he jumped straight to MLSNP from the U-17s. He looked ok in the minutes he played but being ok at 17 is impressive. But another interesting player is Ahmed Ghasemi, who played a lot in League 1 BC despite only being 17 and managed to snag an MLSNP goal. Kyler Vojvodic, another member of that Canada U-17 team might also get a look up front. Especially as the current crop of WFC2 strikers is having a bit of a tough time.