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SSFC Spotlight: Brian White has breakout season with Vancouver Whitecaps

The striker could receive an invitation to winter camp.

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Los Angeles FC Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Many American players delay their entry into the professional game by pursuing college. This leads to quite a few late-blooming talents, fulfilling potential at a later age than many other nations’ structures would allow. Brian White recently completed a breakout season, scoring 12 goals and leading the Vancouver Whitecaps to the Major League Soccer playoffs. With December’s domestic camp on the horizon, the 25-year-old striker could receive a call-up.

Born in Flemington, New Jersey, White grew up playing for Hunterdon Central High School and the dominant Players Development Academy. His goal and assist in the final helped claim the 2014 Development Academy National Championship. The striker also was a member of the the Philadelphia Union U-17 squad that won the 2012 Generation adidas Championship.

White matriculated to Duke University, tallying 23 goals and 11 assists in 73 appearances and earning third-team All-American honors his senior year. During the summer, the forward competed in the Premier Development League with the New York Red Bulls U-23s, capping off his amateur career being named league MVP and winning the Golden Boot. He was considered the league’s top-rated pro prospect heading into the 2018 MLS SuperDraft.

The Red Bulls selected White in the first round, signing him to the reserve team. In his first USL season, he scored ten goals in 26 appearances and was promoted to the senior squad in August. A few weeks later, the striker started and found the back of the net in a 1-0 victory over the Houston Dynamo.

“Honestly, it’s a dream come true,” White said after the match. “Ever since I was a young kid I wanted to be at this level, play for this team in front of my friends and family. [In] the first 90 minutes with an MLS team, to get a goal, it’s a dream come true. [This is] a night I will remember.”

The 2019 season was a step forward for White. He climbed the depth chart due to a teammate’s injury and took full advantage of the opportunity by scoring nine goals in 19 appearances. The Red Bulls signed him to a new contract, with then-manager Chris Armas praising him as “an intelligent striker [who] works extremely hard and has proven he can score goals.” His goals per 90 minutes average was particularly impressive, leading some to envision the potential for an elite MLS striker.

A COVID-shortened 2020 was a bit of a setback as the Red Bulls floundered and went through three different head coaches. He scored six goals in 19 total appearances, never receiving the necessary service. Despite the lessened production, the club named him Offensive Player of the Year.

Following the implementation of a more vertical-attacking style by the Red Bulls, White was on the outskirts of the squad, only making sporadic appearances. He was traded to the Vancouver Whitecaps in June, which altered the trajectory of his career for the better. A connection with a fellow new signing – Scottish playmaker Ryan Gauld – yielded torrid form and a double-digit goal tally, earning multiple Player and Team of the Week honors.

“Coming into a team where I felt valued, it meant a lot to me,” he shared last month. “And being able to slot in and really just get a lot of games in right away, it just meant a lot to me to have so much trust with the club, with the players. Being able to grow in that role was very important for me personally. And I’m just glad I can help contribute to the team and get three points.”

The Whitecaps went on a solid run to end the season, reaching the playoffs before losing to Sporting Kansas City. White’s early-October hat trick against the San Jose Earthquakes was the standout performance, finishing a loose ball and two set piece headers. Despite the premature end to 2021, the future looks brighter for the striker, especially if his recent goal-scoring prowess continues.

White has yet to make any appearance at the international level but was invited to the U.S. Soccer National Combine in 2013. The yearly winter domestic camp appears his best opportunity to impress Gregg Berhalter and force his way into the depth chart. There is always room for an in-form striker, particularly if he manages to score in the upcoming friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

White has the essential skills of getting open and finding himself in the right place at the right time, demonstrating intuitive fox-in-the-box and poacher’s instincts at 5’10”. His runs are well-timed, constantly making himself available for teammates around the final third. He manages to win aerial duels, while also putting in hard work on the defensive side of the ball. Coaches describe him as a “selfless player” that does anything to secure a win.

“Having quality players around, all I have to worry about is getting on the end of passes,” said White, who is more useful in possession than he lets on. “I never saw myself as much of a creator. I never saw myself as a guy who wants to always be on the ball. For me to just poach goals, make runs in the box, that’s how I thrive. When you have players who can do the creative part, it makes it a lot easier for me.”

In every cycle, there seems to be an overlooked striker that makes a late claim for a spot on the World Cup roster. White is still something of an unknown quality, having only recently entered into an environment that fits his abilities. If he can continue this season’s production, the striker could be an intriguing option for Berhalter. The first step is a call up in December.