Could a future Vancouver Whitecaps player come from the Sunshine Coast? That’s what coaches and technical advisors from the Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise are hoping after recent evaluation camps in Sechelt.
On Monday, Sept. 23, the Whitecaps were at Kinnikinnick Park in Sechelt taking a look at more than 100 rep players from U10 boys to U18 girls from the Sunshine Coast Youth Soccer Association (SCYSA) in stage one of a lengthy evaluation process for their residency program.
“The idea is to get roughly around 120 of our kids to come out and go through an hour-and-a-half session, which will be narrowed down to 30 or 40 kids that the Whitecaps feel are at the top of their game,” said SCYSA technical director Ken Campbell. “In November they will come back for another session and narrow that down to eight or 10 who will then spend a weekend at their residency program at the University of B.C. They will do the same thing on Vancouver Island as well, and all the players will come together, play some games and work together.
“From that, they may select two or three kids to come in and take part with the residency program and play some games. Last year we had two kids who actually played some games with the program. The end goal is to get someone from the Coast into the residency program full time.”
This is the fourth year the SCYSA has been working with the Whitecaps in this program.
The day followed on the heels of a day-long session with the house league players on Sept. 15.
“These sessions are very important to our association. Bringing in the high level coaches can help our players so much,” Campbell added. “With the Whitecaps now in MLS, the top professional league in North America, our kids look up to their players. It’s important for our players to see these coaches and to have this connection with the Whitecaps. It gives our kids something to strive for and a goal for the future.”
Rep coach Al Blattler, one of many association coaches who took time off work to be at the evaluation session, said the key to successful programs is to work with the younger kids to improve their skills at an early age.
“Part of the relationship with the Whitecaps is their involvement with the elementary schools and doing programs in the spring in combination with our registration,” he said. “There are two benefits here. One is the kids are getting some good drills and they are being inspired by these top-level coaches. The second is that we have most of our coaches out even though it is a Monday and they are taking time off work, so the coaches are also learning.”
From the Whitecaps’ perspective, these types of evaluation days are more than just looking for the next super star.
“I think it’s very important for us to be involved with all the associations because that’s where the young players are from,” said technical advisor Sam Lenarduzzi. “What we try to do is that we touch all aspects of the program. This is where our future stars will hopefully come from. We want to instill in the players that there is a light there and you can get there if you work hard, that’s the message.”
Fellow coach and technical advisor and former Vancouver 86er Carl Valentine said it is critical to also involve the coaches in the process.
“There is only so much you can do in that one session, so hopefully the coaches can see what we do and the standards we have and that can then impact their training sessions to ensure they have the best training possible,” Valentine said. “Our residency program has been going for a number of years, but when we started we had only 20 kids and the program has certainly expanded since then. When we first started, the long-term goal was to look at starting to produce players in the next four or five years, and that is starting to happen now. The players are coming through the program and that’s encouraging because it shows we are on the right path.”
To be one of the top clubs in MLS, there are many factors that go into that success, one of which is community involvement, Valentine said.
“The Whitecaps have a name. We come over here with great coaches, we come over here with lots of MLS players to meet the kids, and that helps grow the game of soccer,” he said. “Not everyone is going to be a Whitecap, not everyone is going to be a professional soccer player, but you can fall in love with the game. You can come watch a game, so that’s a big goal — to be an asset in the community. And if you can be an asset in the community, you’re going to grow the game of soccer. For us to do that, you have to have great partnerships like we do here on the Sunshine Coast. We can’t do it alone. We have to create these partnerships, work together and make the programs even stronger.”