With academy centres scattered across Canada, including two here on Vancouver Island, the Vancouver Whitecaps are looking to develop players using their club training tools.
In total, they have 14 academy centres in Canada, with the furthest being in London, Ontario.
The goal is to take soccer players from an early age and get them involved in the Whitecaps Football Club. Reaching out to community clubs and organizations, young players are being given the chance to train using the same skills and drills that the MLS (major league) Whitecaps use themselves.
Larry Stefanek, who is the technical director of Oceanside Youth Soccer — along with many other positions related to ‘the beautiful game’ across the Parksville Qualicum Beach region — was named regional associate head coach, alongside Kevin Lindo, for the Vancouver Whitecaps FC Upper Island Academy.
It’s been somewhat of a transition for Stefanek, although it’s something he’s not entirely unfamiliar with.
“I took over for Bill Merriman last year,” Stefanek said. “It’s great to be a part of something that is so big and the Whitecaps organization are hoping to make this bigger and continue to grow the game of soccer in Canada.”
“We’re here to provide the professional training that the Whitecaps use themselves, transferring it over to the players that are coming up through our local leagues and growing their talents from there.”
Players ranging in age from eight to 18 years old take to the pitch at Arbutus Meadows for training twice a week.
Running three training programs through out the year (fall, winter and spring) with at least 10 sessions per program, players will get the training needed to add to their growing game, which they can take back to their club teams on their way up the ranks in the local soccer scene.
“We’re working close with all the neighbouring clubs in the region,” Stefanek said. “We’re not trying to replace club teams, that’s the last thing we want to see happen.”
“We’re working closely with local teams, along with the Vancouver Island Premier League teams and the B.C. Soccer Premier League as well.”
“We want to grow local talent, being able to forward them up from the Oceanside area league, for instance, up to the VIPL and the BCSPL.”
“We’re here to link that path, the Whitecaps academy centre is a way to give those players the supplemental training needed to move up as they continue to grow along with the game.”
With a feeding system for the more serious players, including three players from Victoria that are in the Whitecaps residency program through the Whitecaps academy centre, the chance is there for a potential future with the big club.
“We provide the tools to get there,” Stefanek said. “That’s the ultimate goal here, to grow these kids and nurture their love for the game.”
“If they feel they’d want to try and take it to that level in hopes of one day playing for the Whitecaps in the MLS, this is the road to travel. But it starts here, we get out here with these kids and work with them all the way through. The kids love it, we love it and you can really feel it when we all get together out there on the field.”
Anyone looking for more information can check out the Whitecaps FC website at www.whitecapsfc.com/youth/programs/academycentres or you can contact Larry Stefanek at 250-228-9169.