It will be two years next month that the Newfoundland and Labrador Soccer Association and Major League Soccer’s Vancouver Whitecaps FC entered into a partnership with the opening of the Whitecaps FC Academy Centre, a high-performance training centre in St. John’s.
And while it’s still way too early to see any direct correlation between the centre’s creation and on-field results for provincial teams, NLSA player development director Mike Power says the provincial soccer association is enjoying the benefits.
The latest was Newfoundland and Labrador’s performance last weekend at the Atlantic Under-18 Showcase tournament in St. John’s, where both the male and female provincial teams went 3-0 against their counterparts from Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and New Brunswick.
“We’ve been more than pleased with the arrangement,” Power said. “The Whitecaps are providing technical resources that have really helped us with the program that we are providing here.
“In addition to that, they have boots on the ground here to help in both player and coaching development, and the partnership offers a pathway for players to be seen through opportunities to travel to Vancouver and train.
“It’s a well-supported system for a player who shows the ability and ambition to make their way into the Whitecaps Academy. They now have an avenue they can pursue rather than training for the sake of training.”
Last year saw Newfoundland and Labrador teams provide some decent results in national play, starting with the Holy Cross senior women’s team winning the bronze medal at the Canadian Jubilee Trophy women’s championship. The U15 girls finished fifth at nationals, while the U17 boys and Canada Games boys’ teams both registered sixth-place finishes.
“It’s really difficult to measure the success of something like this in wins and losses,” Power said. “It’s not the main goal … that’s to develop players.
“That said, we’re more than competitive at the Atlantic championships, as you saw last weekend, and we’ve seen good results at nationals.”
St. John’s is one of 17 centres in Canada operated by the Whitecaps, joining 10 in B.C., and one each in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, London, Ont., Halifax and Charlottetown, P.E.I.
The aim is to get to the Whitecaps’ residency program or the girls elite program.
The Whitecaps FC Academy Centre program is more active in the off-season, with athletes training through the winter at the Techniplex indoor facility in St. John’s.
It’s nothing new to the NLSA, but under the Whitecaps banner, the program is certainly busier.
“We’ve run a High Performance Program for U13 to U17 for a long time,” Power said. “It was formally aligned with Canada Soccer, but they never had the capacity to support and maintain it.
“With the Whitecaps, they’re here three times a year for scouting and player development, and we’re sending both teams and players to Vancouver on a regular basis for different projects.”
Some individual players travelled to Vancouver over the winter to train at the Whitecaps FC Academy, and in March, two dozen local players headed west for the Whitecaps’ under-13/under-14 High Performance Combine in Richmond, B.C.
“They got in some matches, got some great training, did some classroom stuff,” Power said. “That’s the type of experience the Whitecaps can provide.”
Newfoundland and Labrador has never had a full-time member of either of Canada’s national teams, although Jeff Babstock did have a stint with Canada in the qualifying rounds for the 1972 Olympics. Babstock also played for Canada at the 1971 Pan Am Games in Colombia.
Laura Breen was in the mix for a national team berth before she was hampered by injuries, and Hannah Rivkin and Emmanuel Dolo were considered for spots in national age group teams.
“Totally,” Power said. “Our aim is get someone on a national team. And I think we’re definitely striving in that direction.”