CIS invaluable, Whitecaps' boss says - Times Colonist

By Cleve Dheensaw

This guy has Garden City cred.

Vancouver Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi, keynote speaker for this morning’s second annual Vikes Championship Breakfast, touched on some of the “amazing links” between UVic and the Whitecaps.

“I don’t have the history here of a Chris Hebb,” said Lenarduzzi, referring to last year’s keynote address delivered by former UVic basketball star Hebb, now the senior vice-president of broadcasting for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment in Toronto.

“But consider that [the two significant Whitecaps Major League Soccer investors] Steve Nash and Jeff Mallett are Victorians, one who graduated from UVic and the other who received an honorary degree from the school this month, and that UVic’s soccer coach Bruce Wilson and I played pro together for the Whitecaps and many years with the Canadian national team.”

Lenarduzzi will address a sold-out audience of 700 this morning in McKinnon Gym. Last year’s inaugural Vikes Championship Breakfast raised $150,000. That was matched by the university as $300,000 was directed into the coffers for financial programs to help Vikes athletes.

Although totally immersed in pro sport at the moment, as the Whitecaps prepare to jump from the USL-1 to MLS in 2011, Lenarduzzi said he will touch on the value of university sports in his speech today.

“We have a significant gap in this country for top players, in our sport at least, from age 18 and high school to about age 23 and the pro ranks, and I believe the CIS [Canadian Interuniversity Sports], along with residency academies and other programs, can help fill that gap,” said Lenarduzzi.

Lenarduzzi said he is convinced the MLS will provide the biggest jump start to soccer this country has yet seen.

“Toronto FC is the best thing that ever happened to soccer in Canada,” said Lenarduzzi. “And that impact will only grow with Vancouver, and eventually, Montreal joining.”

That leaves the intriguing question of a Whitecaps farm team, especially with Vancouver leaving USL-1. Victoria, which has drawn extraordinarily well in the USL Premier Development League, could be one of the options, said Lenarduzzi.

“We [Whitecaps] have talked about retaining a USL-1 team in B.C. or elsewhere,” Lenarduzzi confirmed.

But those are details in the big picture, which has suddenly become unsettled because of uncertainty over provincial funding for a new retractable roof for B.C. Place — an issue seen as crucial in the MLS’s decision to expand to Vancouver.

“Obviously, we’re in a bad economy and money has become tight,” said Lenarduzzi, who said the Whitecaps feel they are stuck in the middle.

“It was the government that approached us about the roof project. We’re still pursuing the waterfront stadium but put that on the back burner as a result. And we made a commitment to the MLS about the roof. If there is not a new roof, there will have to be some serious soul searching on our part and concerns about whether the MLS wants us moving into that building [B.C. Place]. But I do understand the funding question and the different things that have come up in the province regarding needs such as health care and education, and we’re sympathetic to that.”

Lenarduzzi sighed when asked why Canada hasn’t been back to the World Cup since he and Wilson and Victoria players Ian Bridge and George Pakos helped this country qualify for the first and only time in 1986.

“We need to fix our development model because it’s broken,” said Lenarduzzi. “We’re getting an advisory group of national team alumni together to look at ways to address what needs to be done.”
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