BRITISH COLUMBIA

Whitecaps add to system depth by acquiring USL Pro team

11/21/2014 03:32 EST | Updated 01/21/2015 05:59 EST
VANCOUVER - Vancouver Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi says creating a USL Pro franchise in Vancouver will build a bridge to help talented young players cross the gap into professional soccer.

The Whitecaps announced the launch of Whitecaps FC2 on Friday. The team, which will be known as WFC2, will play a 28-game schedule with home matches at the 3,500-seat Thunderbird Stadium on the University of British Columbia campus.

The Whitecaps play in Major League Soccer, North America's top professional league. The USL Professional Division (known as USL Pro) is a third-tier league below MLS and the North American Soccer League.

"This club is a bridge between what we do at the bottom of our pyramid and what happens at the top," Lenarduzzi told a news conference.

"We have spent a lot of money on player development. There is an acknowledgment of a gap between players graduating out of residency at 18 and being ready for our MLS team."

The Whitecaps are the seventh MLS club to announce a USL Pro team for 2015. The Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders, L.A. Galaxy, Montreal Impact, Real Salt Lake and Toronto FC will also have teams competing.

Lenarduzzi sees USL Pro as a great training ground and a peek at possible future MLS stars.

"The idea of our young players coming out playing against their counterparts from Seattle, from Portland, from L.A., it will be something," he said.

"We will be able to access their abilities at that level and determine which ones are good enough to actually graduate through to our senior team."

The USL Pro league can also help develop players for Canada's national team.

Members of the Whitecaps needing conditioning or game preparation can also be added to the WFC2 roster.

The Whitecaps haven't selected a coach for the new team yet.

"We are just keeping our options wide open at this stage," said Lenarduzzi. "There is a lot of interest in the job.

"We haven't dug down too deep in terms of determining who it might be at this time."

The Whitecaps had originally hoped to locate the WFC2 team in nearby New Westminster. That plan was scuttled when the New Westminster city council voted against a proposed $11.4 million refurbishing of the facility the team wanted to use.

Councillors were concerned about the cost of the project and the time frame involved.

The Whitecaps held talks with a couple other communities before deciding to locate the team at UBC.

"We just decided we didn't want to get caught in the middle of any political discussions that were taking place," said Lenarduzzi.

"We just laid low and looked at what the options were. There is a lot of good reasons to be here."

The club also wanted to have the team operating this year.

"It was important for us we didn't miss another year of development," said Lenarduzzi.

"It was important for us these young players that have come through our system to actually get the opportunity to play week in and week out against very good opposition."

The Whitecaps currently have a training facility at UBC.

In 2012 the club announced plans for a $31.5 million National Soccer Development Centre at UBC. The centre will have a three-level, 35,000-square-foot fieldhouse, three grass fields and two artificial turf pitches.

The facility will be the permanent home for the Whitecaps, the USL Pro team and youth programs. It will also be used by UBC's varsity teams, students and the community.

Arvind Gupta, UBC's president, said the facility allows the university to "connect our community together."

UBC supplied the land and the provincial government has committed $13.9 million towards the project. The Whitecaps are responsible for the remaining money.

The clubhouse was originally scheduled to be completed in time for next year's women's World Cup. Lenarduzzi said construction now won't begin until the middle of 2015.

"Things come up," he said. "Unfortunately that delayed the process."