Whitecaps see training centre as integral to success in MLS - Delta Optimist

Soccer club has $25 million plan for John Oliver Park in East Delta

Sandor Gyarmati

Having a new national soccer training centre in East Delta would be an integral part of the Vancouver Whitecaps creating a top-notch Major League Soccer franchise, according to club president Bobby Lenarduzzi.

Saying the best is yet to come, an enthusiastic Lenarduzzi made a presentation Wednesday to the Tsawwassen Business Association, speaking about his club's successful MLS bid and plans to build a state-of-the art facility here to develop young players.

"I've said time and time again the rest of the world isn't wrong. The pro clubs develop their players, so we need to start doing that in North America. Otherwise, I think we're hasting our own demise."

It was announced last week the Whitecaps will join MLS for the 2011 season, playing in a refurbished B.C. Place Stadium that will accommodate up to 20,000 fans for games. Based on how fast the first wave of season tickets were scooped up, it's clear soccer will be back in a much bigger way in B.C., said Lenarduzzi.

However, the key to having a strong product, as well as a healthier league, is the necessity for teams to develop their own players, he said, noting MLS and its member teams are interested in hearing more about his youth development philosophy.

"We've invested significantly in both financial and a human resources perspective. Right now, the MLS model cannot accommodate our youth development model and we're not prepared to abandon that youth development model because we feel that's the future of the game, not only for the Whitecaps, but for our national teams as well. We'll try to convince the other teams that if they want soccer to thrive in North America, they have to be developing players."

Lenarduzzi said when the Whitecaps of the now defunct North American Soccer League folded in the 1980s the number of youth players in B.C. declined, thus, there's a correlation between having top level professional soccer and youth participation.

A former Whitecaps player and five-time NASL all-star, Lenardruzzi has been negotiating with the Corporation of Delta to build the National Soccer Development Centre at John Oliver Park.

Last fall, the municipality signed a memorandum of understanding with the Whitecaps, although a final deal has yet to be reached. The centre would be worth approximately $25 million and Delta would pay for the necessary road improvements to the park. Delta would also provide a 60-year-lease to the Whitecaps for the section of the park that would be used exclusively by the soccer club.

The training centre would have a clubhouse for the national and pro teams, a training facility and seven fields. Two of the fields would be for community use while the others would be for the Whitecaps' player development programs.

The fields would also be available for tournaments and clinics, which could generate revenue for the local economy, said Lenarduzzi.

He noted the Whitecaps might also invest in housing in Delta for visiting players to use.

The Whitecaps won the United Soccer League's First Division title last year and Lenarduzzi suggested that part of the team's player development could include having a USL team based in Edmonton.

Lenarduzzi said although the Whitecaps have a training field at Simon Fraser University, having a new facility in Delta to accommodate world-class training programs would also lure some of the best young prospects from across Canada to come here.

The Whitecaps also field a women's and two developmental teams.

Noting one of the objectives in the Whitecaps' long-term vision is to help grow the sport in B.C. and Canada, Lenarduzzi credited owner Greg Kerfoot for funding that aim.

The Whitecaps operate boys' programs at two high schools in North Delta and are planning to start a girls' academy in Tsawwassen.
© The Delta Optimist 2009