VANCOUVER -- As the Vancouver Whitecaps' season comes to a disappointing end Sunday, Sam Adekugbe will offer some hope for the future.
The 18-year-old Calgary product is slated to make his Major League Soccer debut, as a starter or substitute, when the Caps (12-12-9) close out their campaign, after missing the playoffs, against the visiting Colorado Rapids (14-10-9.)
"If I do start, it'll definitely be exciting," said Adekugbe, a defender who came up through the Whitecaps' youth program and signed with the MLS squad in August.
"I think it's every kid's goal to debut as a professional as young as possible."
Adekugbe, who was born in London and lived in Manchester until age nine before moving to Calgary, gets the opportunity to play due to left fullback Jordan Harvey's suspension for yellow-card accumulation.
"Growing up, you talked about how exciting it would be to make your debut at 18 because, growing up in England, you see a lot of kids making their debut at 18," said Adekugbe. "So if I get to do this in Canada, it's going to be an exciting possibility."
Adekugbe's debut coincides with the final game of Vancouver defender Young-Pyo Lee's distinguished career. Lee, who represented his homeland of South Korea in three World Cups and won titles in his home country, England, the Netherlands and Saudi Arabia, has announced his retirement and will remain with the Whitecaps for at least two seasons to learn about sports administration.
"I learned so many things the last two years," said Lee, 36. "It is, someone (said), another world for me about sports."
South Korean media are expected to give extensive coverage to his swan song and he hopes to use the game as a chance to say "thank you" for the support he has received from fans.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Caps will use the contest as a chance to show that all is not lost even though the club missed the playoffs after being near the top of the Western Conference standings before a summer swoon.
"I'm really excited about it, because we can have two 18-year-olds out there and another player who's come through our system (Adekugbe and Kekuta Manneh)," said embattled Vancouver coach Martin Rennie, whose future with the team is expected to be determined next week.
"We're just really starting to see the benefit of all the hard work that the club's done for many years, and the club's poised to be really good, and it's because of these young guys coming through."
Rennie noted the Whitecaps have achieved many of their aims this season, including: new highs for wins, points and goals; first victories over Seattle, New York, and Los Angeles; and a Cascadia Cup crown for the best in-season record in games between Seattle, Vancouver and Portland. The coach hopes to get an opportunity to stay on for a third season and keep building a club that he guided to the playoffs in 2012.
"I know that this team can go on and be a really strong team that contends for titles," he said. "I also know how long it takes to build a team to do that, and it's not an overnight process. It's not a one-year process. It's not even a two-year process."
But before facing the inevitable changes that will come, the Whitecaps want to excel against the Rapids, who beat the Caps 3-2 last weekend to extinguish Vancouver's flickering post-season hopes.
"For a long time, we had the best record at home in MLS and then we had a spell where we didn't do as well as we had been doing before," said Rennie. "We need to finish on a high."
Captain Jay DeMerit, who refuses to view the season as a failure despite the team's exclusion from the playoffs, said this is a time for the Caps to reflect on their campaign and put together one final triumph.
"We all look at it as: This will be the last game where all these guys are here," he said. "So we need to make sure that we get the most out of it."
DeMerit's contract is expiring, but president Bob Lenarduzzi has indicated the team wants to re-sign him after he made a strong recovery from a torn Achilles tendon suffered in the first game of the season.
Goalkeeper Joe Cannon, 38, who started the campaign as No. 1 but was relegated to No. 3 and has not played since a win over L.A. on May 11, is not expected to get a new deal. Lenarduzzi and Rennie indicated in mid-season, when the team signed new No. 1 goalkeeper David Ousted, that Cannon would not be brought back in 2014.
Cannon hopes to keep playing somewhere next season.
"It's been great to have seen this organization from day one and grow to what it's become," he said. "But, obviously, it's a bit bittersweet.
"I think, as a group, we could have achieved a lot more things than we have."
Notes: The fifth-place Rapids have not officially clinched a playoff spot yet, but their chances of being eliminated, with sixth-place San Jose getting in on a tiebreaker instead, are mathematically remote. Pending other results this weekend, a win over Vancouver could enable Colorado to finish as high as second.