Print Edition: July 17, 2013
O’Neill—UFV’s 2011-12 rookie of the year—was picked up by the ‘Caps Premier Development League (PDL) club and has been honing his skills in the United Soccer League (USL), competing with teams from across Canada and the United States.
Previously O’Neill played for the Abbotsford Mariners PDL for three summers and was excited to be granted the opportunity to play with the Major League Soccer (MLS) affiliate.
“It was a big honour for me to be selected to the Whitecaps PDL team and to be a part of a professional organization like the Whitecaps. I had been working hard for many years and wanting to be a part of this team,” he says.
Like his former Cascade teammate, Sasa Plavsic, O’Neill was scouted by the PDL coach, Stuart Neely during their Keg Classic tournament in March.
Unfortunately O’Neill suffered a sprained ankle and only played 20 minutes; he thought his chance to play for the Vancouver club was gone.
“I was very disappointed,” he says. “A few weeks later I got a call from Stuart asking to come to the start of the practices for the PDL team. I had to try out to get onto the team.”
The tryout paid off and O’Neill earned a place on the team.
Now, having been playing since May, he notes that dressing in Whitecaps blue and white comes with certain expectations.
“We go into every game being the favourites and expecting to win because we have the name Whitecaps,” he explains. “The other teams know this and they know they will be playing a good team.”
The USL consists of 65 teams across North America and, like the Whitecaps, many of them are affiliated with MLS clubs. Competing at that level opens doors to the MLS and other international leagues for university players like O’Neill.
He hopes to be granted one of these opportunities one day.
“If I get the opportunity to play professional soccer I would take it in a heartbeat. Playing with the Whitecaps would be great because it is the hometown team,” he says. “Playing in Europe is also a dream of mine.”
O’Neill is fine-tuning many aspects of his game, and will be able to bring them back to the Cascades’ pitch for the fall.
“I think I will be better in all aspects of my game after this PDL season. The biggest improvements I have made are in my quick decision-making and passing,” he says. “I will be a much improved player and I will be able to pass on some of the things I learned to my UFV teammates next season.”
The regular season is wrapping up for the Whitecaps, and their playoff chances are looking good as they sit in third place.
Soon O’Neill will be back at Chilliwack Exhibition Field preparing for another season with the Cascades. Be sure to look for O’Neill on the back line this fall, bringing his summer as a Whitecap to the pitch.