On a chilly Wednesday evening in Saanich, 60 players are engaged in a focused soccer training session, decked out in the purple shirts of Vancouver Island FC.
Two scrimmages are in process on the artificial turf of Braefoot Park, with four teams of mixed ages in a constant state of movement. Among the team are top talents Alexis McKinty, Liz Gregg and Mariel Solsberg. The teams are mixed, to expose the youngsters to the superior skills of the veterans while the young lions keep the vets on their toes, playing with hunger and energy.
The club was set up by non-profit group Epic Sport Management Society for $60,000 and now plays in the NorthWest Conference of the Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL). The league is the biggest women’s elite competition in the world with 120 teams. Ninety-five per cent of all U.S. women’s national team members played in it last year.
The club aims to take advantage of the south Island’s reputation as a hotbed of sporting talent but needs community support for it to become an established vehicle for women athletes.
“We want to provide an opportunity for women to come back in the summer and be able to play,” says managing director Corey Volk, “We’re trying to empower women in the community, Bin 4 (a local restaurant and the team’s Title Sponsor) owner Sarah Blackmore is really helping us to attract prominent women in business in the Greater Victoria community to get behind this, as this is a team about women, by women, for women.”
As a brand new club, with all the attendant challenges, the quality of set-up is impressive. The coaching team is arguably the best in the league, including experienced coaches and ex-pros Neil Sedgwick, Wes Barrett, Blair Sturrock, Nick Gilbert and Trevor Styles.
Results seem to bear out the strong coaching and administration, with the first-team beating the reigning champion Seattle Sounders 2-1 in their second game of the season.
Mariel Solsberg, one of the senior players, says, “The standard is very competitive, a lot of talented athletes. I would say it’s a mix of levels but everyone is pushing to get to their next level,” she says.
“I’m still in love with the game, and part of the reason I’m here is I feel I can still learn. I can offer something to an environment like this and I want to set an example for young people.”
At the training session, the players’ first touches are sharp, the passes crisp, with a clear commitment to a passing game. The league follows the somewhat controversial North American rules of rolling substitutions, which purists argue turns the game into a frenetic bout of kick and rush, but the team prioritize technique and skill over speed and brute physicality.
If you would like to show your support, the team play at Pacific FC’s Westhills stadium June 15 and 16 and June 30 and July 6 at Goudy Field. A total of 700 tickets have been sold so far and the team hope to sell 500 tickets a game. Kids under 12 go free, teenagers go for a toonie and adults pay $10. If you buy all the tickets for a reduced $75, you get a free replica jersey, which usually costs $45. Visit wpslvancouverisland.ca for more information.