By Cleve Dheensaw
The Victoria Highlanders could replace the Vancouver Whitecaps in the professional United Soccer League when the Whitecaps vacate the circuit to move up to Major League Soccer in 2011.
"It's no secret Alex [Highlanders owner Alex Campbell Jr.] wants to move to a higher division [the pro USL]," said Drew Finerty, general manager of the Highlanders.
The Highlanders begin play this spring in the USL's Premier Development League. Home field will be the under-construction 1,200-seat City Centre Stadium in Langford. Finerty said the Island soccer and corporate community must show support if the USL pro division is to come to Victoria.
"We need local businesses and the local community to come through and show the support to prove they want it," said Finerty.
"Firstly, we can't operate out of 1,200-seat stadium for the pro USL. That would require at least a 5,000-seat stadium. We need to demonstrate to the USL that we have the proper facility and that our marketplace and corporate community will support pro soccer."
The current USL-pro potential stadiums are the City of Victoria's Royal Athletic Park, which successfully hosted the 2007 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, and UVic Centennial Stadium, which is set for a refurbishment and has in the past hosted the 2002 FIFA Under-20 women's World Cup and Team Canada in U-17 and U-20 CONCACAF qualifiers. A third option would be to enlarge the Langford facility.
Victoria is known as a soccer city. The pro USL could be a prime opportunity to prove it again.
There will be such a strong Victoria flavour to today's Whitecaps press conference that they could have held it in conjunction with high tea at the Empress. Two former Victoria soccer players -- two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash and former Yahoo! president Jeff Mallett -- are integral to the announcement that the Whitecaps are jumping to the MLS in 2011.
Highlanders owner Campbell Jr. is on holiday in Mexico but released a statement through the club.
"We're extremely excited for the Vancouver Whitecaps," said Campbell.
"This announcement is a great success for the Whitecaps and soccer in B.C. and Canada. It will offer a higher level of professionalism, which in turn will also help develop and support our national team program in the long run. It will be interesting to see what spin-offs happen [in Victoria] because of this announcement."
Whitecaps head coach Teitur Thordarson, during a recent visit to play the UVic Vikes in a friendly match, said he could envision a scenario where a Victoria team moves up to the pro USL after the Whitecaps go to the MLS in 2011.
"I can't see why that shouldn't happen for Victoria, especially with all the [soccer] talent on the Island," said Thordarson.
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