VANCOUVER, B.C – Vancouver Whitecaps FC appear to be making advances towards a possible NWSL franchise in 2018. Away From the Numbers (AFTN), a Canadian soccer website, caused quite a social media frenzy on Tuesday.
Something to excite fans of women’s soccer. Hearing a @NWSL team is coming to Vancouver. Will be operated by Caps. Should be announced soon.
— AFTN (@aftncanada) January 3, 2017
It’s important not to put the cart before the horse. Whitecaps FC talks with the NWSL are currently in the preliminary stage. Nothing has been signed, sealed, or confirmed. The Whitecaps organization took the time to speak to the Whitecaps FC three supporters groups to gauge interest in bringing an NWSL franchise to Vancouver. These brief discussions took place during the 2016 end-of-season supporters meeting. The supporters groups shared concerns about the long-term stability of the NWSL.
The Equalizer caught up with Whitecaps President, Bobby Lenarduzzi, at the end-of-season awards in October, to inquire about bringing an NWSL team to Vancouver within the next couple of years.
“It’s something that has been discussed,” said Lenarduzzi. “We’ve always felt that when we were investing in the women’s team in 2012, what we found with that group of players, we were bringing in a lot of American players to play. The better players were playing in the women’s professional soccer league (WPS). We just felt that if we were going to invest money, and this is when John’s (Herdman) program came along as well, that if we invested in the bottom end in development, that eventually those players would make it to the top and we could continue to access the professional opportunities.”
B.C. Place Stadium, Swangard Stadium, and UBC’s Thunderbird Stadium could potentially be stadiums for a Vancouver NWSL team. The 2012 USL W-League Vancouver Whitecaps FC team played a roving home schedule at various venues in Metro Vancouver. To cut down on travel costs, visiting teams would fly in to Seattle’s Sec-Tac airport, and then drive across the Canada / U.S. border to play the Whitecaps.
Costs are a huge hurdle in bringing an NWSL team to any market. The Whitecaps organization are also responsible for USL men’s team, Whitecaps FC 2. Running an MLS, USL, and NWSL team would create more added day-to-day costs. If talks are to progress further, the Whitecaps will want some kind of security and less of a financial burden if the NWSL flops. This time around, the NWSL, Canada Soccer, and Whitecaps organization must work together and equally share pieces of the pie.
A Canada Soccer spokesperson confirmed support for an NWSL team in Canada: “Canada Soccer has supported the NWSL for the past 4 years and will continue to be supportive for the future. Canada Soccer is open to any ownership group that is interested bringing a team to Canada.”
It’s not as easy as signing a coach, holding an expansion draft, deciding on a stadium. A lot of steps and procedures take place behind the scenes. If Canada Soccer is going to support a stable Canadian NWSL franchise, a lot of checked boxes are first required.
“Proper venue and stadium, along with an ownership group that is not only looking to invest in the top-tier, NWSL, but also willing to show a commit to the CSA Excel Pathway through delivery of our REX programming,” the CSA spokesperson added.
A Vancouver Whitecaps FC NWSL franchise is more probable now, as opposed to a few years ago when the NWSL kicked off. However, an announcement is not imminent.
If you are hoping for an NWSL franchise supported and backed by the Montreal Impact or Toronto FC, you are out of luck. Toronto FC’s interest in the NWSL is unknown.
The Montreal Impact are adamant that long, medium, and short-term plans do not include a Montreal Impact NWSL franchise. Impact President and Owner, Joey Saputo, also expressed this during a July 20, 2016, Meet the Members supporters group meeting.
A Montreal Impact club spokesperson provided brief comment via email.: “This is not in the plans of the club short and medium term.”
If you are hoping Canadian MLS team finally takes a step towards bringing an NWSL team to Canada, the Vancouver Whitecaps are your best bet. The wheels are slowly in motion. Should talks continue to progress the NWSL could welcome a new team in 2018.
Later Wednesday the Whitecaps gave the following statement to The Equalizer. “Vancouver Whitecaps FC is a club with a long standing tradition of supporting the growth of soccer in Canada. We’re very proud of our commitment to the development of women’s soccer and the success of our girls REX program and we are always assessing opportunities to further the talent pool in Canada.”
note: The NWSL declined comment for this story