Wednesday's performance not only keeps Vancouver's 2014 Canadian Championship hopes alive, it bodes well for the club's future.
VANCOUVER – You could forgive Vancouver Whitecaps FC supporters for feeling a bit apprehensive when the starting line-up was announced an hour before kickoff in Toronto on Wednesday.
That apprehension, if not concern, was likely made very acute when Toronto FC opted to play its first-choice starting XI versus the Blue & White - a line-up that included all three of the club's Designated Players in Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe, and Gilberto.
But for all the perceived apprehension, and a few on-the-pitch scares during the first leg of their Amway Canadian Championship semifinal clash, the Whitecaps earned the plaudits of observers and likely the advantage of advancing to the final of the five-club competition, despite falling 2-1 at BMO Field.
From a Voyageurs Cup standpoint, Vancouver's hopes of winning the trophy for the first time were boosted by Kekuta Manneh scoring an invaluable away goal in stoppage time. With the aggregate scoreline at 2-1, the 'Caps can return home to BC Place next Wednesday night and know a single-goal victory, at the very least, can see them through to the final.
And while the first-leg result was a key part of Wednesday night's storyline in Toronto, it was how Carl Robinson's side went about achieving it.
Lining up against the multi-million dollar investment that was TFC's starting XI was a squad that gave a glimpse into what has been produced out of the club's Residency program. Whitecaps FC's line-up included an average age of 22.11 years, with three teenagers making their professional debuts.
The notable inclusion was goalkeeper Marco Carducci. Before Wednesday night, it could be said that the biggest soccer stage that the 17-year-old had appeared on was with Canada at last year's FIFA U-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates.
Signed to a Homegrown contract just before the start of the season, Carducci repaid Robinson's faith in him with a fairly solid performance in Toronto. Though he was beaten twice by Toronto FC's big stars in Defoe and Bradley, Carducci did his part to keep the scoreline more than respectable, especially in the first half when he blocked away Defoe's tight-angled strike on target.
In midfield, Vancouver put a spotlight on the talent coming out of the province of Manitoba, as a pair of 18-year-olds in Marco Bustos and Kianz Froese also made their professional debuts. While not necessarily standing out by any means on Wednesday, the pair showed the type of ability and discipline that would have delighted the Residency program's coaching staff.
Froese, in particular, was impressive with his attacking runs towards the TFC backline in the first half. The only disappointment was to not see the teenager attempt a strike at goal when he was in a couple of prime positions to test Reds goalkeeper Joe Bendik. It was likely a sign of 'first-game jitters', for which Froese is sure to take positive lessons from.
Of the five Canadians that started the first leg for the 'Caps, three were not only under the age of 20, but all hail from Western Canada. Carducci is a product of the Calgary soccer scene, while Bustos and Froese have surely made all in Manitoba soccer very proud by their recent achievements.
You then include the Ontario contingent of Bryce Alderson and first-leg captain Russell Teibert, and suddenly fans of the Canadian national team can start believing in a brighter future for Benito Floro's squad.
Teibert was his usual busy self versus his old club, while Alderson's first-team debut was almost a 'personification in performance' of how Robinson's young side grew into Wednesday's game.
Like Bustos and Froese, the 20-year-old Alderson faces stiff competition to earn regular first-team minutes in a Whitecaps midfield full of talent, but when has depth ever hurt a club? Robinson knows that having options is a blessing and not a curse.
Omar Salgado has rejoined the Whitecaps after a loan spell with the Charleston Battery.
There was also further encouragement in seeing Omar Salgado back in a Blue & White kit after a recent loan spell with Vancouver's USL PRO affiliate Charleston Battery. The striker's impact off the substitutes' bench might suggest we see him in action at Columbus Crew Stadium on Saturday - a venue where he scored his first MLS goal back in 2011.
It was nearly seven years ago that the Whitecaps Residency program was launched, with the hopes it would produce talent for the club and the Canadian national team.
By giving some of those Residency products an opportunity to shine on Wednesday, not only was Robinson left with pride in his youngster's efforts, so were many Whitecaps supporters.
The future for these young 'Caps players may be hard to predict, but based on what was seen at BMO Field this week, the future may indeed look very bright on Canada's west coast.