Whitecaps opt for youth vs. Toronto FC in Canadian championship semi
Coach Robinson eager to gauge players' readiness
How young will Vancouver's starting lineup be Wednesday for the first leg of the Amway Canadian Championship semifinal against Toronto FC?
"Younger than young," Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson said with a smile. "Because my first-team squad is young anyway so it's a little bit younger than that.
"I want to give the opportunity to some of the younger players I've got in my squad to see how close they are to being ready. They've got great, fantastic ability but the only way they can learn is by challenging them in certain game situations and I think [Wednesday] is a perfect example for them to get given the opportunity.
"I've got 100 per cent faith in them."
FC Edmonton hosts the defending champion Montreal Impact in the other first-leg semifinal Wednesday. Edmonton advanced by dispatching Ottawa Fury FC 3-1 on aggregate in a battle of North American Soccer League teams.
There's likely more than national pride at stake for Vancouver in showcasing the young Canadians.
The Whitecaps (3-2-4) are coming off a 3-2 home win over the San Jose Earthquakes. Facing a game in Columbus on Saturday, it makes sense to rest some starters with three games in a week.
So Robinson, who brought 26 players on the road trip, plans to give Canadian youth a chance with starts for 17-year-old goalkeeper Marco Carducci and 20-year-old midfielder Bryce Alderson.
Midfielder Russell Teibert, a 21-year-old who already has 46 Major League Soccer appearances under his belt, will also start and Robinson is expected to have other young Canadian talent such as teenage midfielders Marco Bustos and Kianz Froese, in his matchday 18.
Carducci, who has twice been named Canadian Under-17 Player of the Year, starts ahead of No. 2 'keeper Paolo Tornaghi.
"I'm going to be very excited," Carducci said Tuesday when asked what his emotions will be at kickoff.
Robinson speaks glowingly about his young 'keeper, a Calgary native who played for Canada at the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup.
"He's brilliant," said the former Welsh international, praising his commitment, work ethic and temperament.
Alderson is also bubbling with excitement.
"It's huge," said Alderson, who captained Canada at the 2011 FIFA U-17 World Cup and has played for the Olympic team in qualifying.
A native of Kitchener, Ont., he grew up supporting Toronto FC. Now he is trying to find tickets for family and friends to see him play against them at BMO Field.
It's also a home showcase for Teibert, a native of Niagara Falls, Ont., and former member of the Toronto FC Academy.
"It means a lot," he said. "It's a Canadian championship and we haven't been the best team in Canada just yet. Hopefully this is the year."
Robinson plans to save his starting centre backs Jay DeMerit and Andy O'Brien for Saturday's game in Columbus. Johnny Leveron and Carlyle Mitchell, who have deputized for the two veterans before, will likely take over Wednesday.
The Whitecaps also recalled striker Omar Salgado from the Charleston Battery of USL Pro on Tuesday. Salgado will be available for Wednesday's game.
Toronto has the weekend off so is facing less of a short-term fixture crunch. And given it is only now returning to a full roster after a slew of injuries, the chance to give the first team more time to play together is welcome.
Still manager Ryan Nelsen plans to give goalie Joe Bendik his first start of the season, opting to rest Brazilian No. 1 Julio Cesar. That opens the door for Bendik, who started 33 games for Toronto last season before losing his job to Cesar this year.
Midfielder Jeremy Hall (Achilles) is out while defender Bradley Orr (calf) and midfielder Jonathan Osorio (charley horse) are doubtful.
'Desperate to play'
Nelsen says designated players Jermain Defoe, Michael Bradley and Gilberto will "most likely" see action.
"They're all desperate to play," he said.
Defoe and Bradley have both missed time due to injury so still are finding their legs, the manager said. And while Brazilian striker Gilberto has yet to score, he is threatening in front of goal.
"In all honesty, they do need games," Nelsen said.
The Toronto manager also pointed out matter-of-factly that he tends to starts a lot of his young Canadians week in and out, with defender Doneil Henry and midfielders Osorio and Kyle Bekker as Exhibits A, B and C in recent weeks.
Toronto (3-4-0) dropped its third straight game when it lost 2-1 to visiting New England on the weekend. Nelsen's team, which has had widespread injury problems, has lost four of the last five.
Montreal captured the inaugural Canadian championship in 2008. Toronto won it the next four years before the Impact claimed it again last year. Vancouver has finished runners-up five straight years.
The winner hoists the Voyageurs Cup, donated by the Voyageurs' Canadian supporters group, and earns a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League, a 24-team competition featuring clubs from North and Central America and the Caribbean.
The CONCACAF Champions League winner advances to the FIFA Club World Cup.