VANCOUVER (CUP)—The Vancouver Whitecaps soccer team has found a home at UBC.
The Whitecaps announced on Sept. 7 that they will be building a $32 million National Soccer Development Centre at Thunderbird Park, in partnership with UBC and the B.C. provincial government.
“We’ve been all over the Lower Mainland in terms of places to train,” says Bob Lenarduzzi, president of Whitecaps FC. “I’ve been involved for 38 years with the professional game…and we have never had a place to call home. That’s ridiculous.”
The facility will consist of two existing fields and three new ones, as well as a fieldhouse with change rooms and meeting spaces. The provincial government will contribute up to $14.5 million of funding, with the Whitecaps footing the rest of the bill.
The fieldhouse, the existing fields, and one of the new ones will be in the athletic complex at Thunderbird Park. Two grass pitches will be built on Matthews Field, the lawn in front of Thunderbird Stadium.
This new facility will also be the training centre for the Canadian Women’s National Team (WNT). Canada WNT head coach Jon Herdman touted the move as important ahead of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, for which Vancouver is a host city.
“Now here in B.C. we have something to be proud of,” Herdman says. “I can’t wait to bring the national team to this centre and let everyone know that we’re going to be here so that these kids can see what it’s really going to take to be the next [Christine] Sinclair.
“We’ll make use of these facilities as long as we’re welcome, and this may be our little tipping point.”
The complex will be home to the Whitecaps’ senior men’s and women’s teams and all levels of their youth programs, including the U-16 and U-18 residency teams. Lenarduzzi praised the opportunity for teams to practice on grass fields, as well as the European development model of having professional players compete alongside young players.
“Kids will be playing on fields, and on the very next field there will be Whitecaps players, there will be men’s and women’s national team players,” Lenarduzzi says. “You cannot get a better formula than that to inspire young kids.”
Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie said he hopes to have a field ready for temporary use before the end of the Major League Soccer season in Nov.
“Right now we’re in a tricky spot—we are traveling, we’re not sure where we’re going to train—but that simply won’t be an excuse,” Rennie says. “You make it your home and you get the absolute most out of the facility and you get much more out of the players.”
The fields will be soccer-specific, and access will be 50–50 between the Whitecaps and community use, including UBC varsity, recreation, and other community sports usage.
“It’s really going to offer tremendous new access,” says Louise Cowin, UBC VP Students, of the two new pitches. “These fields right now are good if you want to risk rolling over your ankle, because they kind of undulate.”
UBC men’s soccer head coach Mike Mosher thought the centre will create spin-off benefits for his program. “Our facilities are quite good already. I think the facilities will then improve,” he says. “The ability to go and watch the men’s first team train on a regular basis, those are little things that as a coach you can pick up.”
Cowin said she hoped the development would create a fanbase for soccer at UBC. “I think in terms of opportunities for student engagement, [University Neighbourhoods Association] engagement … I think it’s really going to make a significant impact,” she says. “They’re going to see a tremendously exciting sport of soccer.”