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Vancouver NWSL expansion team now seems more uncertain

A Vancouver NWSL expansion team seems to be a far off possibility, but still a possibility nonetheless.  (photo courtesy Portland Thorns FC)

A Vancouver NWSL expansion team seems to be a far off possibility, but still a possibility nonetheless.
(photo courtesy Portland Thorns FC)

VANCOUVER, B.C – Does the left foot know what the right foot is doing? Not quite when it comes to bringing an NWSL expansion team to Vancouver. Canada Soccer is looking for a strong, and stable ownership group committed to growing the women’s game, while also supplying the financial costs associated with adding an NWSL team to Canadian market.

The Equalizer caught up with newly elected Canada Soccer President Steve Reed ahead of the Canada vs Costa Rica friendly at BMO Field in Toronto on Sunday.

How close is Canada getting to bringing a professional NWSL team to Canada?

“That’s really difficult to say,” said Reed. “I know that the Vancouver Whitecaps have shown an expression of interest, but I don’t know how far advanced that is at this point in time. I would hope that it would be the case of a relatively short period of time. That would be great, maybe it’s a launching pad for other franchises, and other teams across the country to engage and get involved in the NWSL. I really can’t say in terms of a timeline right now.”

Canada Soccer Secretary General Peter Montopoli pointed out that Canada Soccer has put the time and effort in to support the women’s game for the past two decades. The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup was a monumental event that showcased women’s soccer across Canada. Canada Soccer have continued to support and allocate Canadian National Team players in the NWSL.

Perhaps they should be given a gold medal, and a job well done, pat on the back. Actively going out and persuading big business and ownership groups in Canada to invest in bringing an NWSL team to Canada seems to be a miss. The 2015 Women’s World Cup kicked off on June 6, 2015. Fast forward two years later, and Canada doesn’t seem any closer to having an NWSL franchise.

“It’s going to take an owner and an investor that’s willing to put his money into women’s soccer,” said Montopoli. “I think Canada Soccer’s done our fair share over the years, the last 20 plus years. For the NWSL to come in, it would have to be a viable opportunity. I think we believe it is a viable opportunity for an owner. We’ve invested in the league for the first five years as a start-up. We’d like to think that there’s an ownership group that’s willing to invest in women’s soccer. I’d like to think that there’s somebody out there willing to continue what we’ve invested in women’s soccer and do it domestically.”

Vancouver Whitecaps FC are the organization closest to obtaining an Canadian NWSL team. The Caps last had a professional team in 2012. A Vancouver NWSL franchise would instantly create a rivalry with the Seattle Reign FC and Portland Thorns FC, and they could potentially schedule weekend double-headers between the NWSL and MLS clubs.

Again, there needs to be solid ownership in place and viable NWSL interest. MLS clubs, Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact have shown no interest in having an NWSL team. All the eggs are in the Whitecaps FC basket. What exactly needs to be in place to get the ball literally rolling a bit faster?

“You might have to talk to [Vancouver Whitecaps FC President] Bobby Lenarduzzi about that,” said Reed. “I haven’t had a discussion. I’m going to have a meeting with him next week. Maybe I’ll bring that up with him, at that time. It’s the first time as president that I’ve been able to engage with people, and have those kinds of conversations. I’ll bring it up on your behalf. The next time we have a press conference you can come back, and hopefully I’ve got a good answer for you.”

It should not have to take someone’s behalf or the next press conference to offer an update on the stage, and process concerning NWSL discussions in Canada. Hopefully, on behalf of all women’s soccer supporters, players, and the next generation, Reed and Lenarduzzi can find time to talk about women’s soccer and the NWSL during their scheduled meeting today.

The Equalizer also spoke to Lenarduzzi this week following the organizations tour of the brand new $32.5 million National Soccer Development Centre at the University of British Columbia. If Whitecaps FC are serious about an NWSL club playing in Vancouver, why weren’t any women’s team locker rooms built at the 38,000 square feet NSDC?

“We are interested in a women’s team as we’ve talked about,” said Lenarduzzi. “It’s not the structure of the building, and the changing rooms available won’t preclude the women, if in fact that’s something that we decide to do.”

Vancouver Whitecaps FC have partnered with B.C. Soccer and Canada Soccer to help run the Girls Elite REX program from the U-13 to U-18 levels out of Fortius Sport and Health Centre in Burnaby, B.C. Jordyn Huitema is one of the players who is part of the REX program. The 16 year-old recently scored a brace for Canada against Costa Rica. The Girls Elite REX program will not move to the NSDC at UBC. If Whitecaps FC do decide to bring in an women’s team will they have room for a women’s locker room at NSDC?

“It’s an objective of ours, and it’s one we are doing our due diligence on. The fact that we haven’t identified a room for the women—we don’t have a women’s team right now,” said Lenarduzzi.

Lenarduzzi maintains the club is still in the process of “due diligence.” Will a Vancouver Whitecaps FC team be ready to take to the pitch for the start of the 2018 NWSL season?

“The due diligence is still ongoing,” said Lenarduzzi.

The costs associated with running an MLS team, Whitecaps FC, USL team, WFC 2 and an NWSL team won’t come cheap. There have been discussions that in order to bring an NWSL team to Vancouver, the USL team, WFC 2, would be sold off to help offset costs.

“We would have no real desire to not have a WFC 2 team,” revealed Lenarduzzi. “We’ll continue to go down the path where we operate with our second team, and at the same time we continue to look at the viability is of a women’s team.”

It can be challenging to decipher Canada Soccer and Whitecaps speak. Is “due diligence” trending in a positive motion towards an NWSL team, or will it be a big miss from the penalty spot?

“I think every ownership group takes their time and due diligence to review what that opportunity is,” said Montopoli. “You’d almost have to speak to [Whitecaps FC].”

There is no indication as to whether or not Vancouver Whitecaps FC will bring an NWSL team to Vancouver in the near future. Previous off-season hopes have taken a bit of a back seat as the club focuses on the day-to-day operations of Whitecaps FC and WFC 2.

“We’ll continue to investigate,” said Lenarduzzi. “At some point, there’ll be a decision made.”

The possibility is not out the window. It’s a lot more of a wait and see approach. Vancouver has an ownership group in place, a brilliant state of the art facility and a top stadium. All they need now is a franchise and the next Sinclair. If only it was that simple.

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