There is a lot of excitement surrounding the Canadian Men’s National Team these days. In all my years supporting the team I have never seen a group with such talent and attacking ability. And when I look at how young some of the best players on the squad are, I have a sense of optimism for the future because this iteration of Team Canada has not hit its ceiling yet. How good could this team be by 2026 and beyond?
And yet for all that ability and potential there is a big elephant in the room, especially if you’re a fan of soccer in British Columbia. This is a team that is lacking players who were born and developed in BC.
There are a good number of Vancouver Whitecaps players on the Canadian roster, but how many of them were born in BC and then played their youth soccer here before becoming pros? Shockingly, the answer is zero. Russell Teibert joined the Whitecaps when he was 16, but he was born in Ontario and played all his youth soccer there. Same goes for recent Team Canada call up Theo Bair.
Players who were born and developed in that province seem to be making their mark on the national team. So, what gives? What does Ontario have that BC doesn’t? Why are they doing such a good job of developing so many of their own players for the national team while BC hasn’t seen one of its own on the squad for around 10 years now?
— Ontario Soccer (@OntarioIsSoccer) June 28, 2019
What Ontario, and Quebec, have that BC does not is a pathway of development for their local players. They have taken the time to build the necessary league infrastructure so that they can move young players who show potential into higher level youth leagues, and eventually into semi-pro leagues which act as stepping stones to the bigger professional leagues both within Canada and internationally.
This step-by-step development process is referred to as a pyramid. BC has no distinct pyramid. It’s more of a mash up of various amateur leagues and university and college programs with no real established semi-professional stepping stone leading up to the professional levels.
The Tip of the Pyramid: National Domestic Professional Leagues
With the recent launch of the Canadian Premier League (CPL), Canada now has its own Tier 1 domestic professional league. Just like England has the English Premier League, Spain has La Liga, and Germany has the Bundesliga, the CPL is the top domestic league in Canada. This means for the first time in a long time Canada has an established top of the pyramid, the end goal that developing players are aiming for. Of course, building a solid foundation is important too, but if there isn’t a top to that pyramid then there is nothing for the young domestic players to aim for unless they are planning to leave their province or country of origin and try to start a career abroad.
The 2020 CPL season will see three Ontario teams playing in the league: York9 FC, Forge FC, and Atlético Ottawa. At this time, Quebec does not yet have a CPL team, but with the recent success of the inaugural CPL season and the level of interest coming out of that province, it’s only a matter of time before they have a few CPL clubs to support. Fortunately, BC also has a CPL team, Pacific FC, which has many BC born and developed players on its roster. There are rumours swirling that over the next few years BC could see another one or two CPL teams emerge in the province. All good news for local talent who are eying a potential career in soccer.
The Middle of the Pyramid: Provincial Semi-Professional Leagues
Most players coming out of youth soccer will find the jump up to the professional leagues to be far too big to overcome. Trying to crack the roster at a professional team when you’re only 16 or 17 is nearly impossible. And if these young players don’t continue to get playing time during this period, their development will suffer. It’s a waste of time and energy to develop a young player only to have them get stone-walled at one of the most important transition periods in their playing career.
Ontario and Quebec both have provincial semi-pro leagues that their youth players can step into before heading off to the CPL or other leagues around the world. In 2013 the Ontario Soccer Association founded League 1 Ontario (L1O), which is a semi-pro league composed of 17 teams. In 2012 the Quebec Soccer Federation founded the Premiére Ligue de Soccer du Québec (PLSQ), which is also a semi-pro league made up of nine teams. Both of these leagues give their provincial players a place to play and continue their development before they attempt to make the jump to being fully professional. Their champions also get to compete in the expanded Canadian Championship.
Currently BC is lacking a semi-professional league. There are a few different high-level amateur leagues in BC such as the Vancouver Metro Soccer League (VMSL), the Fraser Valley Soccer League (FVSL), and the Vancouver Island Soccer League (VISL) as well as the university and college teams competing in the Canada West Pacific division of U SPORTS, but none of these leagues is semi-professional. If we ever hope to develop more players for the national team this issue needs to be addressed so a clear pathway is established.
— BC Soccer (@1BCSoccer) June 27, 2019
BC Soccer has been exploring the feasibility of setting up a provincial semi-professional league in BC called League 1 BC (L1BC), and in 2019 they released some more information about this proposed project. So far this has been a multi-year process where BC Soccer has consulted with teams from around the province to measure their level of interest and capacity for participating in such a league. This article posted on the Northern Tribune website takes a deep dive into L1BC including some of the potential teams we could see competing in it.
Highlanders League Update 2020, 2021, and Beyond
We are making a move for the upcoming 2020 season! 👀
— Highlanders FC (@HighlandersFC) December 13, 2019
May be the future will bring another summer partnership similar to our winter partnership with @RinosVSC to make us join League 1 BC
— FC TIGERS VANCOUVER (@fctigerssoccer) February 21, 2020
As you can see by the tweets above there are already a couple of teams who are publicly showing interest in the new L1BC. The list of other teams who have applied to be a part of this new league won’t be unveiled until closer to the launch date of the league, most likely kicking off in the spring of 2021.
With the recent refusal by Concacaf to sanction the now defunct Ottawa Fury to play in the American based United Soccer League (USL) we should see the rest of our non-MLS Canadian teams who are currently playing in leagues outside of Canada (such as USL2 side Vancouver TSS Rovers) return home to compete in domestic competition so they can be eligible for Concacaf sanctioning.
The Base of the Pyramid: Provincial/Regional Youth Development Leagues
Any tall structure needs a solid base. In the case of a provincial soccer pyramid the base consists of high calibre youth development leagues for those players who show potential and have the desire to go onto higher levels, including the professional ranks. There should always be fun recreational leagues for the kids who just want to play and enjoy their soccer, but giving young players the option of moving up to a league with a higher level of coaching and competition is vital.
In 2011 the BC Soccer Premier League (BCSPL) was founded to give players from U13 to U18 a high calibre development youth league to play in. According to the BCSPL website, “The overall objective of the league is to support the development and identification of players within a standards based environment.”
EXPANSION NEWS: @BCSPL1 adds new clubs for 2020 & 2021.
— BC Soccer (@1BCSoccer) February 2, 2020
Young players who show promise but are currently playing in a lower division can be identified and invited to try out with the BCSPL team in their region. If the player is interested in playing at a higher level and they make the team, they will receive long-term development with the overall aim to reach their full potential within technical, tactical, physical, and mental abilities whether that be for the Canadian National Team, professional club programming, university and college, the BC Soccer Provincial Program, the BCSPL, or adult ‘Soccer for Life’ opportunities.
In conclusion, if BC wants to develop more of their own players so they have a better chance of achieving professional and national team status, the league infrastructure needs to be in place for that to happen. The following parts of the pyramid need to be established so a tangible pathway emerges that young players can understand and follow:
Tip of the Pyramid: National Domestic Professional League (CPL)
Middle of the Pyramid: Provincial Semi-Professional Leagues (L1BC, L1O, PLSQ)
Base of the Pyramid: Provincial/Regional Youth Development Leagues (BCSPL)
It’s an interesting time for soccer, both provincially and nationally. Your support at all levels of soccer in BC – professional, semi-professional, amateur, and youth – can help this develop.