Bye bye, Bryce

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Bryce Alderson  was a Generation Adidas player as a teenager. But the Canadian never played a minute for the Whitecaps in Major League Soccer. Still, the Whitecaps wanted him back in 2015 — and envisoned Alderson being a big part of their new USL-PRO team. But, after years of waiting for a shot on the big stage, Alderson said no…

The road from academy and even youth international excellence to professional stardom is often rife with obstacles, challenges and barriers for young players. When it comes to Canadian players, those challenges can be even greater.

With just three Major League Soccer teams in this country, and a handful of clubs at lower levels capable of paying players, young domestic talents don’t have the same sort of mobility enjoyed by young Americans.

While Canadians take up a foreign spot on the rosters of U.S.-based teams, young Americans count as domestics on our side of the border.

Still — when it comes to elite talent, there is often the sense it is only a matter of time, and not of if, a top youth player will transition from the first team from the academy.

For Vancouver Whitecaps fans, it has been a somewhat surprising situation to see Bryce Alderson, a two-time Canadian U-17 Player of the Year and a former national-team captain at that age level, part ways with the club this offseason.

Having signed a Generation Adidas deal in late 2011, the player never made the breakthrough at MLS level. Of the players signed to GA deals for the 2012 season, only Enzo Martinez similarly saw no game time at the top tier after joining Real Salt Lake. But Martinez has seen plenty of time in the second-division North American Soccer League as part of the Carolina RailHawks.

Alderson possessed a sweet left foot, ararity among central midfielders, and clear leadership qualities. So the hopes from many on the Canadian soccer scene were high for the player.

Alderson is 21 now, and all of the years the Whitecaps have put into his development since his arrival in 2011 have seemingly all been for nought.

For the player, the decision is simple.

Despite the fact the club has generally said positive things about him and his future, he never played a minute in Major League Soccer.

“That’s why you sign,” Alderson said over the phone from his hometown of Kitchener following trials with Scotland’s Dundee FC, and French sides FC Sochaux-Montbéliard and Racing Club de Lens. “When I signed at 16, the hope was that I turn into a first-team regular. Unfortunately, that didn’t pan out. Of course I would have wanted things to pan out differently, but, unfortunately, that’s not the way it worked out.”

Alderson’s former U-17 national team coach, Sean Fleming, suggests the transition from youth level to professional is always an immense challenge for players.

“Daily training — the expectation that you have to train at a very high level every single day,” Fleming said by phone of the biggest issue for players making the step up. “There’s also, in some areas, a lack of a competition structure, where there’s meaningful games once or twice a week, where a player is under real pressure to perform.”

Despite the fact he didn’t make the breakthrough to the first team, Alderson insists at the time he joined the club, he was making the best decision, stating that he signed with the Whitecaps over options from multiple clubs in Scandinavia following an impressive showing in the 2011 U-17 World Cup.

“Hindsight’s 20/20,” Alderson said. “It’s easy to look at it now and say, oh, the decision to sign in Vancouver, I shouldn’t have done it. When I finished the Under-17 World Cup, I was young. I was just 16. You see a lot of cases of kids who go over to Europe at that young age and do really well, and make a career of it, and you see a lot of cases of kids who go over that young and get lost in the system, and end up coming back to Canada two or three years later with no passion for the game.

“It’s really difficult to look back and say what would have been the best situation. Obviously I’m not happy with the way things played out in Vancouver. I don’t think that’s anybody’s fault. That’s just the way things worked out. I can’t say that I really regret my decision, because nobody knows how things would have worked out had I chosen a different option at 16 years of age.”

Alderson’s decision to leave Vancouver this offseason was his alone, as he seeks regular first-team football for the first time in his professional career. Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson confirmed that he wanted the player to stick around and get more match time with the organization’s new USL-PRO side, Whitecaps FC 2, but Alderson felt he needed to leave to establish himself elsewhere.


“I knew for a long time that I wanted to move on and try something else,” Alderson said of his feelings in the lead up to the end of his Whitecaps’ contract. “I see both sides of it. I understand – I remember meeting with Carl and Carl saying he wanted to keep me, I was young, I was just 20 years old. I understand that, but, looking at it from my side, I signed with the club when I was 16, I’ve been a first-team member for four years and that’s a long time to be involved with a club but not have played, not have been involved.

“I can see his side of it, and I can respect that, but I think we’re on a mutual agreement that yeah, he would have liked to have kept me around, but it maybe wasn’t the best thing for me. What I wanted to do was move on and try something else.”

Alderson’s goal is to sign with a club in Europe and make a go of it on the continent in which he’s dreamed of playing. He says in some ways the style of play in France suits him better — the game is more tactical and brains, more than brawn, tends to be the focus. Alderson admitted the athletic part of the game is an aspect with which he struggles.

Alderson admitted it won’t be easy trying to convince a European team to sign him, but insists that, in some ways, the style in France, specifically, seems to suit him better than the hustle and bustle of North America.

“The North American game was more difficult for me,” Alderson said. “I’m physically not a great athlete. I always struggled with that part of the game. I don’t have too much of a physical element to provide, so I would actually say I fit in more with a European style than a North American. So I don’t know if I’m that much different in terms of skillset to what [European clubs] are used to.”

Still, as a Canadian, his former coach Fleming said there are challenges for those trying to make it abroad.

“I wouldn’t say there’s a prejudice against them, but we’re not really known as a footballing country across the world,” Fleming said. “If some player goes into Europe, where they have many top footballing nations, and know there’s a Canadian coming, then players have to earn the respect.

“If you’re Brazilian, for example, they expect you to be technically sound, tactically sound, but it’s not going to be the same if you’re Canadian, where you have to go and prove yourself and I believe in our kids. Some of our kids have gone over and done very well. I don’t think people realize how difficult it is. You’re not welcomed with open arms by the other players there. You’re there to take their jobs, so it’s another thing our players have to overcome.”

While there are many top-tier clubs across Europe, the player insisted his priority is securing first-team football, even if that means dropping down to a lower level on that continent.

“The best thing for me, and I said this to Carl when I had my meeting with him at the end of the season, is that I need to go somewhere where I can play immediately,” said Alderson. “I’ve obviously been in a situation with Vancouver, where it’s a good club, the facilities are good, the coaching is good and the environment is good, but I’m lacking that element of games.

“For me, there’s no point in going to a different country, a different continent, whatever, and essentially be in the same position, where the training’s great, the facilities are good and the club is good, but I’m not playing games.

“I need to step into an environment where it’s realistic that I’ll be able to play games. Like any player I want to play at the highest level, but I need to be realistic and go somewhere where I can play week in, week out. If that’s a second division or a second-tier, then that’s what I’m going to have to do.”

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