Surrey could be home for Whitecaps farm team

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 popularity of the sport and the team rising across the Lower Mainland, 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 Monday (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 as reserve teams are in European club structure.

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 being home for the team.

“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 driving players into that program,” said McQueen.

He added that it would be great for the community to add a second professional team to the region.

Surrey mayoral candidate Linda Hepner — also the city’s parks recreation and sports tourism chair — told The Province she already spoke with Lenarduzzi about the team coming to the City of Parks.

"We are in the early stages," she said of the negotiations. "Do I think it fits our tourism strategy? — Yes. But we haven’t got anything on the table yet."

City representatives plan to meet with the team’s executives some time this week.

However, former mayor and current candidate Doug McCallum is against the team setting up in Surrey saying he’d rather see fields built for younger players within Surrey.

New Westminster turned down the $11.4 million project saying that 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.

-with files from the Province

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