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Vancouver Whitecaps at standstill with women’s team

VANCOUVER, B.C – The best way to deliver disappointing or unsettling news is to announce your news on busy Friday afternoon so it will go unnoticed with little fanfare. The Vancouver Whitecaps made quite the announcement on Friday when they sent out a press release with the following opening statement:

Vancouver Whitecaps FC announced today that the club will not field a W-League team for the 2013 season.

“The women’s landscape is evolving with the introduction of the new women’s professional league that will include many of the Canadian national team players,” said Rachel Lewis, Whitecaps FC chief operating officer.”

When reached via phone on Friday afternoon Vancouver Whitecaps C.O.O. Rachel Lewis had this to add to the vague press release.

“Today was the deadline to commit to the season.” The Whitecaps are not cancelling the Whitecaps Women’s season they’ve just failed to commit to the W-League for 2013. Why on earth would the Whitecaps not want to play in a league where they’ve fielded a competitive team since 2001? Lewis shed some light on that…

“W-League wasn’t meeting the mandate of growing the sport within Canada for our athletes.”

If the W-League isn’t meeting the mandate why have the Whitecaps been involved in the league since 2001? Even during the defunct WPS years (2009-11) the Whitecaps seemed very happy to have a team in the W-League. Now we’re all left to wonder what specific key mandates in terms of growing the sport were not being met by the W-League.

Having attended all seven home games during a dreadful 2012 Whitecaps Women’s campaign, there is no question the team has garnered enough support and interest in and around Vancouver. Families brought their young and aspiring soccer stars to games all over Metro Vancouver to cheer on the Whitecaps Women. Every game had kids of all ages cheering for the full 90 minutes. After all the attention and gains the Canadian women’s national team made in the last 18-months at the World Cup, and London, Olympics the Women’s game is at an all time high in Vancouver and throughout North American. It’s simply catastrophic to know the Whitecaps Women will not take to the field in 2013.

Mele French, the Whitecaps leading scorer last season had these comments to share on the surprising news:

“They seem to be putting a lot of emphasis on their youth development and are also affiliating themselves with the national teams which is great. But what can the girls look forward to after development?”

French raises an important point, where will the likes of Jaclyn Sawicki, Jenna Richardson, and Nicole Sutterland play after development? The W-League will certainly be an option, as well as the new league, but the idea that these players and many more will have to leave their hometown to further their career is difficult to comprehend. French also added this: “There is always a dream for the youth of Canada to play for their national team, but others have goals to play at highest level anywhere so not having a team in Canada forces the youth to have a goal to play in another country.”

Fans, and inquiring minds will automatically jump to the conclusion that finances and expenses played a huge part in the Whitecaps decision but you can rest assure because according to Lewis, “they did not.” For a team that has previously been represented on the pitch by Christine Sinclair, Melissa Tancredi, Martina Franko, Kara Lang, Sophie Schmidt, Kaylyn Kyle, and many others that have had a successful career with Canada, it’s hard to believe that money did not play a part in this decision. In the last 10 seasons the Whitecaps Women have finished 2nd or higher seven times in the W-League Western Conference. In those 10 years the team made it to the finals three times, winning a pair of championships.

When all of this success occurred the Vancouver Whitecaps men did not play in Major League Soccer. This past season with Whitecaps Men became the first Canadian team to make the MLS playoffs. On the other-side of the pitch the Whitecaps Women finished a disappointing season with a 3-5-6 record good for 6th in the Western Conference. Is it possible that the Whitecaps organization has decided to use all their resources on the MLS team, and therefore the Whitecaps Women’s team is going into hibernation for the foreseeable future?

Eight days prior to Friday’s announcement, Vancouver Whitecaps President Bob Lenarduzzi did not let on any hint of the news, adding that the Whitecaps Women would not join the new women’s professional league.

“Well will obviously do what we’re doing right now,” he said. “The biggest commitment is to the MLS side and to make sure we get that side of that right and we’ll from a distance observe how the [women’s] league is going and then if and when there is another opportunity that’s something we may look at that time.”

Lenarduzzi is a huge supporter of the new league.

“From a strategic perspective we just didn’t feel that we could take that on at this stage given the investment we have in what is we’re doing. We’re very supportive of the women’s game but we just felt it was the wrong time.”

It’s possible that the Whitecaps Women may re-surface in 2014 in the new league if it successfully gets off the ground and terrific support. Lenarduzzi is cautiously optimistic and remembers what has previously faced failed women’s leagues in the past..

“I think the opportunity for a number of our women to play in a league is fantastic,” he said. “I’m delighted that the USSF have stepped up and taken the lead as far as professional soccer goes in the United States and I think there all well aware of the pitfalls of the previous two versions of it so ideally this will be a very lean but productive league.”

Shannon Woeller, who played at Rutgers University this past fall, and started 11 games for the Whitecaps this past season, is disappointed.

“It’s really sad news that I am disappointed to hear and its the end of an era of women’s soccer in Vancouver,” she said. “But I want to thank them for the support they gave women’s soccer over the past years and for the great opportunities that they gave me in my development.”

Woeller, a Vancouver native, was given an opportunity and played six seasons for the Whitecaps. She has also started for the Canadian national team and has a bright future in the Women’s game. Woeller was given a chance and she has done fantastic, but will other up-and-coming Vancouver area female soccer players have the same opportunity?

Notes: Jesse Symons would have returned for his second season as head coach of the Whitecaps Women.


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