OPINION: Could professional women’s soccer one day come to British Columbia?

With Christine Sinclair becoming the world’s leading international goalscorer this week, Ben Steiner takes a look to see if the professional women’s game could one day come to BC, gracing it’s shores as it once did years ago.

A former Vancouver Whitecap has captured the scoring title for the most ever international goals. 

As I’m sure you know by now, that happened when Christine Sinclair scored her 186th goal against St.Kitts and Nevis earlier this week, putting a Canadian atop the world’s top scorers list.

The Whitecaps once had a professional women’s team- but not anymore. No longer are the likes of Christine Sinclair and Sophie Schmidt gracing soccer pitches in Vancouver, rather, they are below the border or across the Atlantic. There is no opportunity for women’s soccer players to flourish in their home country.

But the Vancouver soccer community, alongside the Whitecaps, could take that chance and give women the professional opportunity in Canada. The country only launched the first domestic pro league last year, but it was for men. Women have yet to get their opportunity.

The Vancouver club is already producing some of the top female players that the country has to offer, with the likes of Jordyn Huitema, Julia Grosso and of course, Christine Sinclair, all coming through the Whitecaps youth programs and are or starting to make their mark on the world’s game.

Other than Sinclair, both of the players on that list have been forced to leave the Whitecaps due to the lack of a professional pathway. The club runs academies across the country that develop the women’s game, but for each and every one of these players, there is a lack of a pro option within the club.

Since the disbandment of the women’s team in 2012, the best players from the youth programs have gone different directions. Superstars such as Huitema have gone right into pro soccer, while most others have found their way into post-secondary programs in the USA and Canada.

If the Whitecaps are to enter the women’s pro game again, what would it look like? I see three possibilities on how this could happen.

  1. Becoming a founding partner in a new Canadian women’s league

Plain and simple, even if they wanted to, it’s very unlikely that the club has the financial abilities to pump into an investment of a new league. However, there is the possibility that this could be a success. The passion for the women’s game has been well displayed across this country, with many people having tabs on the women’s national team despite not showing it often. This can be seen directly from Sinclair’s record-setting goa, where popular, non-traditional soccer people shared their astoundment with Sinclaires record.

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To make a league, one would need more than the public interest. Sponsorships would have to buy-in from the start. Many did for the men’s CPL, hence the success of the burgeoning league. There would also have to be other investors in the league, as one cannot play against themselves week-in-week-out.

Is this a viable option? Yes. Is it going to happen? It would take a lot of work and collaboration among the soccer community, making it a very complicated process.

2. An expansion side in the NWSL

This is the most likely possibility, however, it has been an on-off rumour for the last few years. In the spring of 2018, women’s soccer outlet “The Equalizer,” broke the news that the Whitecaps were looking at opening the first Canadian NWSL club. While this news was welcomed by fans, it was soon shut down by the club itself.Image result for whitecaps  nwsl

At the time, it was assumed that the women’s side would play there games at BC Place with a reduced capacity. The city has attracted thwarts of fans to the stadium for national team women’s matches in the past, but who knows whether or not that would happen for a club game. 

While this is easier to do than a team project such as a new league, the financial feasibility and public draw could be a challenge.

3. Whitecaps FC, Pacific FC, and Vancouver Island FC bring a co-funded NWSL club to Victoria.

This is an idea that I’ve been pondering recently. The MLS has a history and partnership with the NWSL, and the CPL has shown interest in the women’s game. What could be better than bringing the two together! The clubs would have to work together, which could be complicated in a competitive BC Soccer market, although a joint venture could bring the clubs together on one front.

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Vancouver Island FC of the WPSL at Westhills Stadium (Check NEWS)

There’s a lot of complicated things in this one, but I think it could really work. First of all, placing the team in Langford where Pacific FC play or even at the University of Victoria would bring the game to a passionate and starved community for women’s soccer.

Vancouver Island FC is a women’s side which already plays at Westhills Stadium. Although the club is not part of the Pacific ownership group, they certainly have been thought of synonymously. They play in the same colours and share the same pride of the island, something that has become vital to the existence of both clubs.

Being the most established entity, the Whitecaps would have to bear the brunt of the initial cost, but they could also be the brand of the team. Although this is unlikely to please islanders, the MLS side’s brand is nostalgic to the BC soccer community, including to many fo those on the island.

This isn’t an idea that has been talked about before, and the likelihood of all these teams coming together is slim to none, although it is certainly a thought to ponder.

British Columbia continues to produce some of the best women’s players that the world has to offer, but there is nowhere for them to play after high school. There must be a solution, maybe even one that could come soon.

Cover Photo: Steve Bosch

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