SURREY – Three years ago, the Vancouver Whitecaps were in their inaugural season of competing at the highest level of club soccer in North America, jumping from the United Soccer Leagues (USL) Pro division to Major League Soccer (MLS).
With the team’s popularity rising, the Caps are intending to bring the USL back to the Lower Mainland in the form of their reserve team.
Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi said after the deal with the City of New Westminster fell through on Sept. 15, the team is now looking for another home for their affiliate, which could very well be Surrey.
Lenarduzzi, who was a member of the only Team Canada squad to qualify for the World Cup, said bringing a team to the Lower Mainland is vital for player development.
“There’s a gap between our residency teams … and our MLS side. The players that are coming out of residency – for the most part – aren’t quite ready to make that step on a full-time basis,” Lenarduzzi said. “If they don’t, their developmental opportunities need not just training, but they need meaningful games. The USL Pro will fill that gap and they will play against quality players from other teams that are likely in the same boat.”
He went on to say the USL team would be used like a “B” team, where players can transition from youth to the pro level.
Whitecaps players who suffer from injuries can get match fitness by playing in
USL games. The president mentioned that this would allow the senior team players to mentor the USL players.
“Ultimately, all of this helps develop players for the Whitecaps. But equally important and maybe more important, it helps develop players for our national team and we can get back to a World Cup,” said Lenarduzzi.
Mark McQueen, the technical director of Coastal Football Club, welcomes the idea of Surrey becoming the team’s new home.
“We, as a club, are part of that player pathway. We’re already a feeder club for the Vancouver Whitecaps. From our point of view, it’s not going to hurt us. It’s going to be a great opportunity for us to work even closer with the Whitecaps and (drive) players into that program,” said McQueen.
He added it would be great for the community to add a second professional team to the region.
City representatives met with the team’s executives on Thursday.
Surrey mayoral candidate Linda Hepner – also the city’s parks recreation and sports tourism chair – said she spoke with Lenarduzzi about the team coming to the City of Parks.
“I think the preliminary talks are really encouraging,” she said. “We talked about what can we do can we do on a temporary basis and we talked about the enthusiasm for the sport in the City of Surrey.”
She added she’s hoping the attraction of a USL team moving to Surrey could work with some of the city’s projects. She also said the city isn’t ready to name locations on where the team would play their home games.
Hepner said she just “jumped at” the opportunity to bring the team to Surrey.
However, former mayor and current candidate Doug McCallum told The Province he’s against the team setting up in Surrey, saying he’d rather see fields built for younger players within the city.
New Westminster turned down the $11.4-million project, arguing it would be a large expense for taxpayers. It would have also forced local baseball teams to relocate.
Currently, the Whitecaps’ affiliate is the Charleston Battery out of Charleston, South Carolina. They compete at the USL level, which is two tiers below MLS.
There are five expansion teams set to join the USL for the 2015 season. None of the current teams or expansion teams are Canadian.