Olivia Barbieri: Are we on the verge of a new era of B.C. soccer talent?

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      By Olivia Barbieri

      Whether or not you are a soccer fan, lately there has been one player’s name that nearly everyone has heard: Alphonso Davies. At 16 years old, he has already scored two goals as a member of the Vancouver Whitecaps, the team with which he started his professional career at age 15. He demonstrates immense talent and promise for his age.

      And there is reason to believe this is just the beginning of a new era of 21st-century talent.

      Youth soccer in Canada has improved greatly during the past few years for different reasons, in part because of B.C. Soccer’s initiative in creating a higher standard of coaching and its Long-Term Player Development program.

      Vancouver Whitecaps play a part

      Perhaps a quiet influence behind all of this in B.C. is the return of the Vancouver Whitecaps to professional soccer.

      The team relaunched its brand in 2010, changing its name from the 86ers back to the original Whitecaps (from the 1970s NASL days) and joined Major League Soccer (MLS) as the league’s 17th team. Regardless of the number of wins, there is something encouraging about having a home sports team to cheer on—for the kids watching, it makes the dreams of becoming a pro soccer player attainable. It’s clear that B.C.’s amateur-soccer organizations understand this and are trying to help make those goals a reality.

      Young soccer players in this province follow a pathway that can take them from recreational fun to professional prospects—and all before the kids graduate high school. Players in B.C. start in local clubs in a “mini” division for ages five to nine at the recreational level. Once they turn 10, kids play in either Division 1 (highest calibre) 2, 3, or 4, with 4 being closest to a recreational level.

      Age 12 is when the pathway splits to highlight player’s abilities. At this point, there is still the option to continue at the divisional levels, but youngsters may also try out for higher-level teams: Metro Select (ages 12 to 17) is a league with a competitive level of play that develops players’ technical skills and their understanding of the game.

      Another option is BCHPL, the B.C. High Performance League (still for ages 12 to 17). This is for top-notch players who have deep-rooted skills and are committed to their soccer careers. The BCHPL teams are a travelling division and require a large amount of commitment and resources from players. 

      Residency an important development oppportunity

      For boys, there is the opportunity to be evaluated by Whitecaps residency scouts when playing on teams in either of these two leagues. If a player is invited, the beginning stage for Whitecaps pre-residency is the “U14s” (13-year-olds), and the process then goes to full-time residency for U16s and U18s. These players work with Whitecaps staff in daily training and conditioning practices that take place before and after classes at Burnaby Central secondary school. As they prove themselves, the students have an opportunity to be called up for Canada’s U17, U20, or U23 national teams.

      Players who graduate the residency program have guest opportunities as budding professionals with the affiliated Whitecaps FC 2 in the United Soccer League (just below the MLS professional level) or even to be called up by the parent Vancouver Whitecaps.

      Girls who play in BCHPL or Metro Select follow a slightly different path into the pro world. The Whitecaps have created a program in partnership with B.C. soccer to form the Whitecaps FC Girls Elite. The program runs for ages 13 to 17 and feeds into the National Women’s Excel program. The Excel program takes young women aged 13 to 19 to the highest level of play, which can lead to playing with the Canadian Women’s National Team. As of yet, North America doesn’t have a version of the MLS for women, so this is the equivalent to the boys’ Whitecaps residency program.

      Alphonso Davies a celebrated example

      Alphonso Davies, the young man making headlines with the Whitecaps, is an example of how this player pathway works. He worked his way through the residency program and graduated to the Whitecaps FC 2 last year.

      This year has seen him score not one but two goals in CONCACAF Champions League qualifying games with the Vancouver Whitecaps. (The Champions league is an annual competition for top soccer clubs in North America, Central America, and the Caribbean.) Davies is quickly becoming a role model for both young kids and those his own age.

      When kids are asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” it often seems they have two responses: their dream jobs, such as being a professional soccer player, and then a more logical backup plan. By having Davies as a young and successful role model, it allows youth to look up and say: “He did it; so can I."

      Role models don’t have to be perfect: Davies is constantly practising and pushing himself. He said in an interview that he wants to improve his pacing to keep up with more experience players and work on improving his right foot, things that all players are told every day.

      It just goes to show that even those on the brink of a professional career are still working on the same core skills as young players. Davies is a prime example that you can do whatever you want so long as you put in the work.


      Olivia Barbieri is a Grade 11 student at Guildford Park Secondary School and is enrolled in its Humanities Co-op program. She has coached three- to seven-year-olds in soccer for the past three years.