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The ifs and buts of bringing a New Westminster team into USL-PRO

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There is one key word to take out of the Vancouver Whitecaps’ announcement that the club hopes to place a USL-PRO affiliate in New Westminster.


There are still a lot of variables in play. Some should come easier than others: It’s hard to imagine USL-PRO not wanting to approve this. To be fair, the league has approved far more speculative expansion pitches over the last several years. With the backing of an MLS side and two more investors willing to put themselves out in the open, the New Westminster pitch will arguably be one of the best pitches USL-PRO will have seen since the third division’s partnership with MLS was announced ahead of the 2013 campaign.

Ian Gillespie of Westbank Projects Corp., and Gary Pooni of Brook Pooni Associates are the new partners in the New Westminster proposal.

The promise is to have Queen’s Park Stadium refurbished for the new USL-PRO if the franchise is granted. So, there shouldn’t be a venue issue.

The Whitecaps hope to have their USL-PRO affiliate in New Westminster for the 2015 season — which would be far more convenient for the club than to ship prospects to the Carolinas for their professional seasoning. The proximity of the USL-PRO affiliate to Vancouver would, logically, allow for the team to better supervise and manage its young players.

The biggest “if” might come from the Canadian Soccer Association; though, the national sanctioning body for the game in this country has softened what had been a hardline stance towards USL-PRO.

Let’s go back to January of 2013; after USL-PRO and MLS announced its partnership — which would encourage MLS teams to affiliate with existing USL-PRO teams or start their own USL-PRO franchises — Canadian Soccer Association President Victor Montagliani took a tough stance. He said the CSA would not sanction the USL-PRO sides established on Canadian soil; they would be permitted to exist, but would be looked at simply as reserve sides of the existing MLS teams (CLICK HERE). Of course, without a sanction, that meant a team couldn’t compete in national tournaments, such as the Amway Canadian Championship.

Remember that MLS and USL-PRO’s affiliation announcement came just two weeks before the CSA published the Easton Report, which recommended the formation of regional leagues that focused on developing Canadian players. Those leagues would be recognized officially as Division 3 in Canada, behind the NASL’s Division 2 and, of course, MLS as Division 1.

The Easton Report, at least in the form presented to the public, stressed that Division 3 should be a Canadian concern. At almost the same time USL-PRO, as a USSF-recognized Division 3, announced an MLS deal — which included the three Canadian teams — that, well, for lack of a better term, flew in the face of what the Easton Report was suggesting.

In hindsight, the USL-PRO/MLS announcement of 2013 was an example of a public-relations gaffe, at least in terms of the Canadian audience. MLS had to have known the Easton Report, dealing with Division 3, was going to be made public. Not involving any Canadian soccer officials in the USL-PRO-MLS announcement was another grave mistake.

So, the USL-PRO announcement wasn’t welcomed by the Canadian soccer community in 2013; an irony considering that USL-PRO the only one of the North American pro soccer circuits to fully recognize Canadians as domestic players. NASL and MLS don’t recognize Canadians on American teams as domestics, USL-PRO does.

Now, fast forward to October of 2014. When asked about the CSA’s decision to write a letter in support of a USL-PRO franchise in Hamilton — a proposal which didn’t pan out in the end — Montagliani said that any proposed USL-PRO franchises on Canadian soil would be treated on a “case by case” basis. (CLICK HERE)

“It’s about creating as many opportunities as we can for Canadian players, Canadian coaches,” Montagliani said.

While the establishment of a Canadian Division “1A” (Montagliani’s term) that coexists with MLS and NASL is a long-term goal (CLICK HERE), that shouldn’t come into play in terms of USL-PRO teams in Canada.

In the end, the goal has to be how we best develop Canadian players. If a New Westminster USL-PRO franchise becomes a place where the Whitecaps stash American NCAA-trained everymen or other foreign prospects who aren’t deemed quite good enough for the MLS roster, then it will be a failure. If it’s a viable place for Canadian prospects to develop their games, then — based on the “case by case” method — it should be allowed to survive and thrive.

Remember what Montagliani said. It’s about opportunities for Canadian players, Canadian coaches. It better damn well be the motto for New Westminster USL-PRO.

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